Gluten-Free Eating: Hype & Facts

Woman eating

Approximately 3.1 million Americans follow a gluten-free diet [1].

Yet, 72% of those 3.1 million Americans are classified as “PWAGs” (People Without Celiac Disease Avoiding Gluten) [1].

While the number of Americans diagnosed with gluten sensitivity has remained steady since 2009, the number of individuals cutting gluten out of their lives has been steadily increasing over the last 5 years [1].

Many individuals claim that they turned their back on gluten for the perceived health benefits such as weight loss, treating disease, or reducing future risk of disease [2].

Are any of these claims factual or is it merely the hype of diet-culture jumping on a new trend?

CLAIM: Gluten is toxic – Fact or Hype? BOTH

Yes, gluten can be toxic, emphasis on “can be.”

1% of Americans are diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune condition where the body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine when gluten is ingested [3] [4].

So, yes, for 1% of the US population, gluten is toxic.

If we’re being generous, between .5% to 6% of the population is diagnosed with “gluten sensitivity [5].”

But, for the remaining 93% to 98.5% of the population – Congratulations!

Gluten won’t harm you any more than the air you breathe!

CLAIM: Eating gluten-free will benefit my overall health. – Fact or Hype? BOTH

Pseudo-scientific articles may tout the health benefits of a gluten-free diet but peer-reviewed, scientific research indicates that these health benefits only exist in individuals with a legitimate wheat allergy or celiac disease diagnosis.

Gluten-free foodsIndividuals with celiac disease may have abdominal pain and diarrhea, but it may also manifest itself as irritability or depression.  Simply put, ingesting gluten causes emotional and physical disturbances for those with celiac disease.

Therefore, it is not surprising that cutting out what the body is reacting negatively to (GLUTEN!) is the healthiest option!

However, for those who are otherwise healthy, there is no evidentiary support that cutting out gluten leads to any health benefits. In fact, the opposite has been proven.

Individuals that remove gluten from their diet without a specific medical reason show deficiencies in B vitamins, folate, and iron because most gluten-free products lack nutrient fortification[5].

These deficiencies can lead to health problems down the road.

Claim: A gluten-free diet will help with weight loss. – Survey Says: HYPE

The exact opposite is true.

Research shows that individuals that follow a gluten-free diet have increased fat and calorie content, as gluten-free packaged foods contain a higher density of fat and sugar [5].

Bowls of food for a balanced diet.As such, obesity has been identified after initiation of a g-free diet [5].

None of these facts are intended to deter an individual from cutting gluten out of their diet if it is medically necessary.

The point here is that cutting out any food source is a big deal and can have serious health implications.

Diet culture is quick to take medically necessary lifestyle changes and churn out “magical health cures,” without being honest about the potential impacts they may have.

Sadly, this often works because our society promotes doing whatever necessary to fit into the idealized image of “perfection.”

Never consider any significant dietary change without consulting your doctor, doing your research, and considering whether this modification is actually for your health or to appease society’s unrealistic expectations.

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


[1] McCarthy, N. (2017). The number of americans going gluten-free has tripled since 2009. Forbes. Retrieved on 14 December 2017 from
[2] Staudacher, H. M. (2015). How healthy is a gluten-free diet? The British Journal of Nutrition, 114:10, 1539-1541.
[3] (2017). Celiac disease: fast facts. Beyond Celiac. Retrieved on 14 December 2017 from
[4] (2017). What is celiac disease. Celiac Disease Foundation. Retrieve on 14 December 2017 from
[5] Reilley, N. R. (2016). The gluten-free diet: recognizing fact, fiction, and fad. The Journal of Pediatrics, 175, 206-210.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on February 4, 2018.

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