SINTON, Texas — Gluten-free diets have gained popularity for people looking to be healthier, so they think.
"Gluten-free diets are basically not a medical diet," said Dr. James Mobley, the San Patricio Co. health director.
Dr. Mobley said individuals who actually have the allergy, called celiac disease, have been tested by doctors, and knew early on something was wrong.
You may hear a friend or family member say they're “going gluten-free," but what does gluten do for the body, and why are people adopting the lifestyle?
"Over the last, really, five to eight years, it's become very popular for people to do gluten-free diets,” Mobley said. “Although it's not based on any science. It's usually an athlete or somebody on a TV show where they say 'Oh, I'm doing the gluten-free diet and everyone should do it', but there's really no facts behind that."
In fact, only one percent of the population actually is allergic to gluten. Though many people might feel better cutting out carbs, this does not actually make them allergic to gluten.
"(Celia sufferers) have very severe symptoms,” he said. “Diarrhea, bloating, weight loss, and it can even be lethal. This is very rare, and these people must follow a gluten-free diet."
For those who are not allergic, there are potential risks with cutting out gluten.
"It's very hard to get in fiber without that,” he said. “Fiber is very important to colon health and reduces your risk of colon cancer or diverticulitis."
The most popular form of fiber is vitamin-fortified bread. Without fiber, you may not be getting enough folic acid, which can lead to other serious problems.
"Folic acid is very important for brain development in unborn children, so young mothers or young children who are trying to get pregnant need to be very careful if they're doing a gluten-free diet," he said.
Dr. Mobley says if you want to cut out bread, make sure you are eating quinoa or something with plenty of fiber on the label. Otherwise, going on a gluten-free diet might be putting extra pressure on yourself that just isn't needed.
"Gluten is neither healthy or unhealthy,” he said. “It's just there."