A gluten-free diet is becoming more and more popular for a variety of reasons. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness estimates that 1% of the American population has celiac disease, the autoimmune disease triggered by gluten. An NPD Group study from 2013, however, showed that 30% of Americans are trying to cut back on or completely avoid gluten in their diets. Going gluten-free, though, isn’t without it’s downsides. Here are 5 things to think about if you’re cutting gluten from your diet.
1. You may be missing out on important vitamins
We started enriching staples in the American diet — through flour, mostly — with iron and B vitamins for two reasons: we’re notoriously bad at getting our recommended daily value, and deficiencies cause things like birth defects and anemia. Through this practice of enriching the foods we eat most commonly, we’ve cut down on deficiency-related birth defects and forgotten to think about how we get all these nutrients.
While people suffering from celiac disease physically can’t absorb most nutrients, if you’re cutting out gluten without really thinking about all the nutrients you get from wheat products, you may find that you’re not doing your body any favors. Inside Tracker explains some of the nutrients you’ll need to actively seek out when you go gluten-free:
- Fiber, which helps your body slow the absorption of sugar into the blood and works to improve digestion, as well as helps you feel full for a longer period of time. Reducing the fiber in your diet can cause constipation, and adding it back too quickly can cause gassiness and diarrhea.
- Folic acid, a B vitamin that the federal government mandates manufacturers to add to their wheat-based products. This is the vitamin vital for the production of new cells and preventing birth defects of a baby’s brain and spine.
- Iron, which many U.S.-produced wheat flours are fortified with and helps the body move oxygen to your muscles and organs, but few gluten-free flours are iron-enriched. An iron deficiency can make you anemic and weak.
2. It can get pricey
If you’ve started a gluten-free diet, regardless of the reason, you’ve probably noticed that many of the staples in an American diet revolve around wheat. Most of the popular foodstuffs made traditionally — cereal, bread, etc. — will have a lower cost at checkout than those now being made with ingredients and processes new to their processing plants.
A study from 2008 showed that prices for gluten-free foods were consistently 242% more expensive than their “conventional” counterparts. It’s more than just packaged food, though. Ingredients are just more expensive. King Arthur all-purpose flour costs about $1 per pound, with a 5-pound bag ringing in at $4.95 in its Web store. Its gluten-free flour mix, on the other hand, is $7.95 for 24 ounces; that’s $5.30 per pound. If you’re not trying to replicate your old diet, this won’t be as much of an issue. If you miss the comfort of cake, though, prepare to shell out.
What makes everything so expensive? Well, according to Wheat Free Nutrition, much of the cost comes from having to produce things in a separate, certified facility and test ingredients for contaminations. Those costs add up quickly. Beyond that, gluten-free products aren’t exactly flying off supermarket shelves. Though certainly gaining in popularity, they’re still specialty items, and stores will continue to charge more for them until boxes of gluten-free cereal sell as well as Honey Nut Cheerios.
3. You may gain weight
Many people jumping on the gluten-free train are hoping to lose weight by cutting gluten from their diets. Gluten is a protein, and cutting gluten isn’t going to help you drop the pounds unless you examine the rest of your diet. If you’re replacing dense, simple-carbohydrate-packed foods for fiber-rich foods made from whole grains, you may lose some weight as a byproduct of trimming the refined, processed sugars of white wheat from your diet. If you’re trading a carb-loaded plate for a vegetable-heavy one, that is a diet adjustment that will probably go well for you. However, if you’re simply swapping your bagels for gluten-free packaged snacks, you may even be increasing your calorie count.
Men’s Fitness reports that many of the replacements for wheat flour used by manufacturers — cornstarch, rice flour — are more calorically dense than their wheat counterparts. Often, gluten-free stand-ins like sandwich bread are packed with more eggs and oil to hold them together, jacking up the calorie count from what you may be used to.
If you do have celiac disease, you may notice a quick increase in your weight once you cut gluten out of your diet. Celiac.com explains that one of the effects of gluten on the system of someone with the autoimmune disease is that nutrients aren’t absorbed well, or at all. If you’re scarfing down 3,000 calories per day and maintaining a trim figure — or, more likely, looking really thin because you’re actually malnourished — it’s because most of those calories are moving right through you, unabsorbed. Removing gluten and restarting your nutrient absorption means you’re actually going to start feeding your body, and you may see some weight gain.
4. The slightest bit of gluten can make you miserable
Especially if you have celiac disease! While you’re eating gluten regularly, your body slogs through the reaction, but if you cut gluten from your diet, the tiniest bit can cause a major reaction. The Mayo Clinic warns that even trace amounts of gluten can cause damage to the intestine and cause really uncomfortable abdominal pain and diarrhea.
5. Your cholesterol may rise
If you have from celiac disease and your body hasn’t been properly absorbing nutrients, you may have particularly low cholesterol. At the point when you begin to normalize, though, your cholesterol may jump up. Celiac and gluten-free advocate and author Tina Turbin warns that when she went gluten-free, her always low cholesterol levels gave her doctor quite a surprise, since her intestines were finally absorbing the cholesterol in food. She recommends keeping on eye on your levels and seeking out low-fat, low-cholesterol foods.