Q: Is there a downside to following a gluten-free or grain-free diet for someone who is not highly sensitive to gluten?
A: A gluten-free or grain-free diet can pose risks and is not recommended for someone who is not highly sensitive to gluten. Such a diet is also unlikely to provide any benefits.
“There’s no reason for someone who feels well to start a gluten-free diet to promote wellness,” said Dr. Benjamin Lebwohl, director of clinical research at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. “It is not an intrinsically wellness-promoting diet.”
One of the main problems in avoiding grains is that it can reduce the overall quality of someone’s diet. Fiber is important for digestive health, so inadequate intake can lead to constipation and other bowel problems; it may also make you not feel as full, which can lead to weight gain. While grains aren’t the only source of fiber available, they are a good one, and most Americans fail by a long shot to get the recommended intake of about 20-40 grams a day.
A gluten-free diet that means eschewing whole grains can be especially problematic, because whole grains are associated with numerous benefits, especially for heart health.
Only about 1 percent of Americans have true celiac disease, a serious autoimmune disorder, and should follow a strict gluten-free diet. Another 6 percent or so have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a milder condition tied to digestive problems and other symptoms. Observing whether symptoms improve after a trial elimination of gluten is the main method of diagnosis.
For everyone else, a gluten-free diet is not advised.