If you have coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity, the answer is easy: yes, you probably should. But if you just want to give the diet a spin, know this: it’s a giant pain in the butt. Giving up gluten may sound as basic as cutting out bread, but this isn’t just another version of the low-carb craze.
Because gluten makes foods thick and tasty, it is added to everything from salad dressing to soy sauce to seasonings. Plus, it’ll cost you bucks. “A strict gluten-free diet is expensive, difficult to follow and will exclude a number of tasty and nutritious foods,” says Epstein. “I never recommend a strict gluten-free diet unless the diagnosis of coeliac disease has been confirmed – this usually requires a combination of three things: blood test, biopsy of the small intestine taken during a gastroscopy test and the patient’s HLA type, a genetic test.”
If you have gluten intolerance, be sensible and avoid the foods that upset your stomach, Epstein recommends. Besides the hassle and money, you can end up with serious nutritional deficiencies. “Gluten-free doesn’t necessarily equal healthy, especially when people yank vitamin-enriched and wholewheat foods from their diets and replace them with gluten-free brownies,” says Case. In fact, research suggests that those who forgo gluten may be more likely to miss out on important nutrients such as iron, B vitamins and fibre. This is where careful meal planning comes in, which may explain why some people feel so good when they go G-free: they’re eating real food instead of ultra-processed packaged fare.
“If you skip the gluten-free goodies and focus on fruits, vegetables, lean protein, dairy and gluten-free grains like quinoa, this can be a very healthy way of eating,” says dietician Marlisa Brown, author of Gluten-Free, Hassle Free. “But you can’t just wing it.”