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The gluten-free diet: the truth behind the trend

WATCH: Is gluten bad for you? Does going on a gluten-free diet really help you lose weight? Why are so many eliminating wheat, barley and rye from their diet? Aalia Adam breaks it down and debunks a number of myths associated with the protein.

Over the past decade, millions around the world have gone gluten-free. The protein found in wheat, barley and rye is often vilified and blamed for everything from diabetes to schizophrenia.

“The gluten-free diet has surpassed other diets like South Beach diet, Atkins, low-carb diet, organic food, veganism,” director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, Dr. Peter Green told Global News.

READ MORE: Going gluten-free to ward off heart disease might have opposite effect: study

He adds that best-selling books like Wheat Belly and Grain Brain are some of the reasons why there are so many common misconceptions about the gluten-free diet.

Below are a number of myths about gluten and the truth behind them.

Myth: Gluten causes damage to the gut:

True…for some

Gluten only causes damage to the gut of individuals who suffer from celiac disease.

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Think of your small intestine like a tube,” explained registered dietitian, Andrea Miller.

“On the inside of that tube are these very tiny microscopic hair-like structures that line the inside our intestine. The function of those hair-like structures is the absorption of nutrients. When an individual with celiac disease is exposed to gluten, those hair-like structures, rather than standing straight up, they lie flat.”

Nutrients then just slide right across them and do not get absorbed. Not only does it lead to iron and other nutritional deficiencies but it also leads to symptoms like stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, skin rashes, weight loss, bone problems and even behavioural issues.

READ MORE: New program makes it easier for people with celiac disease to dine out

Once gluten is eliminated from the individual’s diet, the gut heals, the symptoms improve and the body starts absorbing nutrients normally again.

Unless you have celiac disease or a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, foods containing gluten are not harmful at all.

Whole grains, including those made with whole wheat and barley, are very rich in fibre and other vitamins and minerals.

Read more: With mock meat on the rise, here’s how to survive on a vegan diet

“Wheat-based products are the key area where many people get B-vitamins and iron,” Miller added.

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“When we go on a gluten-free diet, especially if we don’t need to, those nutrients start to fall off in our diet.”

Myth: A gluten-free diet helps you lose weight:

False

One of the most popular myths about a gluten-free diet is that it helps you lose weight or that it’s a “healthier” diet for the general population.

These claims are unfounded and many health professionals insist it may actually be the opposite.

“When we look at gluten-free foods, they’re lower in fibre and often higher in sugar,” Miller explained.

READ MORE: Your decision to go gluten-free is raising your risk of Type 2 diabetes, study warns

“They make us feel less full, so you may end up eating more as a result”

Myth: Avoiding gluten will make you feel good:

False

When individuals who do not have celiac disease or suffer from any sensitivities, they often claim to “feel better” consuming gluten-free products. Miller says the fact that they feel this way may not have anything to do with gluten itself but may be because they’re paying more attention to what they’re eating in general.

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“If they’re eating fruits and vegetables because they’ve taken away gluten-filled baked goods or cookies or processed foods that contain gluten, the quality of their diet may go up and they’ll feel better. So, it could just be that”

For more myths on the gluten-free diet, watch the video above.