While many diet trends come and go, gluten free benefits are here to stay.
This is because when following a gluten-free diet, many people experience multiple positive changes throughout their whole body.
Let’s review these and the research-backed gluten-free diet benefits.
Gluten Free Benefits: You Can Get More Nutrients
Some people argue that you will miss out on nutrition if you eliminate gluten.
That’s simply not true if you follow a gluten-free diet in a healthy way.
In fact, following a gluten-free diet as part of a Paleo diet is a very nutritious diet and it meets or exceeds the nutrients you could get if you followed the guidelines as recommended by the US Dietary Guidelines.
According to a recent study, people following a gluten-free diet resulted in a higher intake of some nutrients than people eating gluten. These nutrients include magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin K, and some B vitamins.
Your body will also absorb nutrients better on a gluten-free diet if you have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease as well.
The main source of gluten in the diet is wheat. And wheat is a filler in most processed foods and is in almost every junk food on the market.
So by eliminating gluten, you may naturally eat more healthy foods if you choose mindfully.
For example, common gluten-free ingredients that are naturally gluten-free food swaps include:
- Protein foods
- Healthy fats
You can opt for grains too that are gluten-free. These gluten-free grains are as nutritious or more nutritious than wheat, barley, and rye. They include quinoa, gluten-free oats, brown rice, millet, and amaranth.
Gluten Free Benefits: Less Inflammation
Contrary to past beliefs, gluten sensitivity, not just celiac disease, damages the body by creating an immune cascade in the body that causes inflammation.
Foods containing gluten such as wheat, not only contain inflammatory compounds like gluten, but they also contain a fermentable carbohydrate called fructan.
The fructans in wheat can cause gastrointestinal bloating and pain among other symptoms for some people.
A fructan reaction can create an inflammatory response in the body too, setting about an immune attack, imbalance in gut bacteria, and distress in the body.
Gluten is also a very large protein in grains, and by being a large protein, it is one of the most allergy-provoking substances in foods. This allergic response can result in inflammation throughout the whole body.
Related post: How to Feel Better After Eating Gluten
Gluten Free Benefits: Improved Digestive Function
One of the major benefits of a gluten-free diet is that you will likely have a happier gut.
Gluten foods can cause distress due to the gluten itself but they are also often high in fructans. Fructans cause gut inflammation as reviewed above and are problematic for some people too.
It is now proven that people who follow a low fructan diet as part of the low FODMAPS diet have symptom relief from irritable bowel disease and often relief from inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
People who have gluten sensitivity also make high levels of a protein in their gut called zonulin.
Zonulin is an inflammatory protein that regulates the gut lining by opening and closing the spaces between cells in the lining of the digestive tract.
With higher levels of zonulin production due to exposure to gluten, the gut becomes “leaky.”
The lining of the digestive tract that protects your body from the outside world is really only 1 cell thick, and that makes our gut fragile.
You only have one cell layer protecting you from everything you throw in your gut.
Leaky gut due to increased levels of zonulin is essentially like having the door cracked open from your intestines to your bloodstream.
That door is open all the time, and it causes the immune system to sense danger and recruits inflammation to fight that danger.
When you eliminate gluten and inflammatory foods, the gut lining can recover and heal more readily.
Gluten Free Benefits: More Energy
A common symptom in people with gluten sensitivity and celiac disease is fatigue. Research shows that both conditions can be exhausting. People with gluten sensitivity can also experience chronic fatigue syndrome.
The reasons that gluten can zap your energy are many. If you don’t tolerate gluten, your body doesn’t absorb nutrients well and this can lead to anemia too.
Many people who follow a gluten-free diet experience improved energy levels.
Gluten Free Benefits: Better Sleep
One symptom of gluten sensitivity can be poor sleep.
Research shows that following a gluten-free diet can improve sleep quality in people who suffer from celiac disease. It may also reduce obstructive sleep apnea symptoms among people with celiac sprue.
Another way the gluten-free diet may improve sleep quality is by helping to heal the gut.
Gluten can cause a leaky gut, which in turn causes an increase in stress hormones in the blood. Stress hormones can cause poor sleep quality.
Because a gluten-free diet can result in better sleep, less inflammation, and more energy, it also naturally can help people lose weight.
Gluten Free Benefits: Less Brain Fog
People with difficulties digesting gluten can have more brain issues than gut issues. In fact, around 90% of people with gluten sensitivity have impaired memory and brain function also known as brain fog.
Going gluten-free may help your brain function better by reducing the level of brain fog you feel.
A remarkably large percentage of people with gluten sensitivity experience difficulty concentrating and grogginess and here’s the fascinating part:
Eliminating gluten usually resolves most brain fog symptoms after 2 days according to this small study.
Similar to brain fog, people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and celiac disease have a major reduction in their ADHD symptoms after sticking to gluten-free foods.
Gluten Free Benefits: Better Mood and Nerve Health
One of the health benefits of going on a gluten-free diet can include a better mood.
This is because gluten sensitivity contributes to many neurological conditions including anxiety, depression, seizures, ADHD, autism, ataxia, myopathy, neuropathy, and even schizophrenia symptoms.
Symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sad mood are common and are tied to gluten in the diet. People voluntarily following a gluten-free diet were much less likely to have depression symptoms in a review study of over 1100 people.
In fact, they were around 60% less likely to feel depressed on a gluten-free diet than those who did not follow a gluten-free diet.
People who have celiac disease and follow a gluten-free diet are also much less likely to suffer from depression than those who did not follow the meal plan.
If that wasn’t enough proof, over 50% of people with epilepsy had a reduction in epilepsy symptoms and were even able to reduce epilepsy medications after following a gluten-free diet.
Gluten Free Benefits: May Promote Better Bone Health
Inflammation in the body can cause bone loss and low bone mineral density.
As reviewed above, gluten intolerances can cause a lot of inflammation in the body.
Some experts working closely with people following gluten-free diets notice that people who are advised to avoid gluten have improved bone density.
People with celiac disease who follow a gluten-free meal plan have better bone density than those who do not follow a gluten-free diet as well.
While more research is needed to fully prove that avoiding gluten helps everyone with bone health, it can be a nutritious meal plan for many other reasons.
Researchers in dermatology have discovered that almost all common skin conditions can improve if people eliminate gluten-containing foods and products from their diets.
These skin conditions include eczema, psoriasis, vitiligo, acne, skin rashes, and more.
Following a diet free of gluten has helped my skin tremendously. This is because skin conditions can be closely related to autoimmune diseases, which often benefit from the elimination of gluten.
A good example of this is eczema. You can read more about the gut-eczema connection here.
Better Joint Health
As you may recall, gluten can cause a lot of inflammation in the body. By following a gluten-free diet, many people have relief from their joint symptoms for this reason.
Sometimes people with gluten intolerance don’t have digestive symptoms at all. They have joint arthritis as their primary symptom.
In fact, people with severe rheumatoid arthritis that doesn’t respond to medications have relief from their arthritis when going gluten-free.
Gluten Free Diet Reduces Autoimmune Disease Risk
Autoimmune diseases fall on only a few genes. Because of this, people often get not just one, but multiple autoimmune conditions.
Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease, is affected by gluten.
And research shows that many autoimmune diseases are linked to gluten intolerance.
In fact, people who follow a gluten-free diet are 50% less likely to get an autoimmune disease.
It turns out that many people with autoimmune diseases also respond favorably to eliminating gluten.
For example, if you have type 1 diabetes, your risk for celiac disease (an autoimmune disease) is much higher than if you didn’t have it.
The same goes for other autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, thyroid conditions, and more.
If you can get a handle on the inflammation in your diet by eliminating inflammatory triggers like gluten, you most certainly will be able to minimize autoimmune symptoms.
May Help Your Heart
Some heart conditions are related to autoimmune diseases such as acute pericarditis.
In this case, gluten sensitivity can be a culprit in the disorder and the elimination of gluten may help reduce cardiac symptoms.
Still, much more research is needed to determine if gluten-free foods and gluten elimination can improve other aspects of heart health.
Gluten-Free Benefits: Improved Dental Health
Many people don’t think about their mouths as being a part of their digestive tract but it is. And gluten can affect all parts of the digestive tract, including the mouth.
According to Love Dentistry, gluten intolerance can worsen many aspects of teeth and gums, including gingivitis, periodontitis, and loss of enamel, and can cause canker sores as well as pitted teeth.
Often people notice improved oral hygiene when they go gluten-free, including me.
Should You Wait to Eliminate Gluten Until You Test for Celiac Disease?
According to Beyond Celiac, 83% of patients who have celiac disease never get proper testing or are misdiagnosed.
Additionally, patients with celiac disease go an average of 11.7 years with symptoms before getting the diagnosis.
Even if you do try eliminating gluten before testing for celiac disease, it isn’t too late to test for celiac disease once you try adding gluten back.
Most importantly, if you want to be tested for celiac disease, you need to be your own best advocate and ask for the test to be done.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity
Here are some symptoms that are signs you could have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity:
- Nerve pain
- Mouth sores
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Iron deficiency
Most of these symptoms are due to small intestine damage caused by celiac disease. Gluten sensitivity also causes similar damage but is usually less severe than celiac disease. When it comes to celiac, gluten elimination is the cornerstone of treatment.
Learn more at the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research for symptoms of celiac disease, and empower yourself to get checked for celiac disease. The list of symptoms is long.
Celiac Testing: What is Missed
Between 10-25 percent of people now avoid gluten because they feel better doing so.
But, should people wait to get tested for celiac disease before embarking on a gluten-free diet?
The answer is not necessarily.
This is because checking for celiac disease misses gluten sensitivity, which is at least 6 times more common than celiac disease.
Testing for celiac misses allergy to gluten as well. Some research suggests that up to one-quarter of the population is sensitive, intolerant, or allergic to gluten or wheat.
By testing for celiac disease only, we are missing the majority of the problems created by gluten.
There is no test that is accurate for checking gluten sensitivity, or allergy to gluten for that matter.
The gold standard to determine if you have a gluten sensitivity or allergy is full elimination of gluten, and then reintroduction 3-4 weeks later.
If you add gluten back and then suffer symptoms, then you most definitely should check to see if you have celiac disease.
What happened to my health when I eliminated gluten?
My skin cleared up. I no longer got cystic acne. And I thought my life was destined to have these unsightly skin blemishes.
What else changed?
- I have more energy
- I sleep better
- My mood is better
- My dental health got better
- My digestion is WAY better: and I didn’t think I had a problem until I looked back at what was happening. No more bloating, or indigestion. Now if I try to add gluten back, my stomach yells at me. It is saying to me, “Oh no you don’t. We were doing much better without that.”
What got worse? Nothing.
Sure, sometimes I still dream of real pizza or bread. In a pinch, and in a desperate moment, a gluten-free version will fill that hole in my life. I have no desire to lose all of these health benefits by adding gluten back.
Is it Gluten or Something Else?
Some people ask if it is truly the gluten itself causing symptoms or if is it all the chemicals used in harvesting wheat.
Other people wonder if it is dramatic hybridization or change in the wheat plant that has created a negative response to these foods.
Yet another question that remains is whether our toxic environment makes us more susceptible to foods like wheat that normally would be just fine.
We may never know the answers.
The only way to find out if you are sensitive to gluten is to fully eliminate gluten-containing products for 3 weeks minimum.
This is because antigens to gluten can linger in the body for weeks, so you won’t fully know what it means to be gluten-free until it is out of your system for that long.
If you only try elimination for a week, for example, you will never likely know if you are sensitive or not.
Gluten has to be 100% gone for this time period, so be prepared, and seek help if needed. It’s challenging, so try it only when your life will allow you to focus on this with great intent.
Gluten Free Foods List
Foods that are naturally gluten-free include:
- Chia seeds
- Gluten free oats
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 23 years as well as a book author of The Whole Body Guide to Gut Health, Heidi has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. She has researched supplements and natural medicine throughout her career. One of her biggest loves is helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.