SALT LAKE CITY — Many Americans have joined a growing trend of having gluten-free diets, but nutritionists say that unless individuals have Celiac disease, they are hurting their bodies by not getting the protein.
A recent study showed that Americans spent over $4 billion in 2012 to avoid a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, but experts argue that avoiding gluten won't have any long-term health benefits. By 2017, Americans are expected to spend over $6 billion on gluten-free diets.
"The gluten-free market makes a lot of money, so they're doing an excellent job of marketing the health benefits of these gluten-free products," said Sara Fausett, a dietician and nutritionist at the Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge in Ivins.
Fausett said the health benefits of a gluten-free diet are innumerable for the 1 percent of Americans with celiac disease. Celiac disease is an auto-immune disorder triggered by eating gluten.
"It causes your intestines to become so inflamed and upset, you can't really absorb what you eat to make your body run the best that it can," Fausett said.
However, the individuals who are abstaining from gluten who don't have celiac disease are not gaining any health benefits, according to experts.
Many people say that not eating gluten products helps them to lose weight, and others say it makes them feel better, but Fausett said that those people who don't eat gluten aren't getting the necessary nutrition.
"Wheat has so many benefits, fibers, calcium, iron which are so important to your overall health in the body that if you don't have celiac, you're really restricting a lot of variety in your diet, a lot of good food options, and you're restricting the nutrients going in," Fausett said.
Repeated studies have shown whole grains not only help you maintain weight, but also reduce risk of stroke, diabetes and heart disease. Besides missing out on those benefits and other nutrients, Fausett says gluten-free foods are generally higher in calories and more expensive.
Fausett said it's great that celiac disease is gaining awareness, but people should be very careful of adopting a gluten-free diet if they haven't been diagnosed.