As a locum tenens physician, during your travel assignments, you are bound to run into a patient or two that have some questions regarding a gluten-free diet. While you may have your own opinion about this, you want to be able to give your patient all of the information necessary to make an informed decision about their dieting habits.
Gluten-Free Is (Not) A Fad
Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, but it is also found in many other foods like ice cream and even ketchup. In general, gluten-free diets are for those suffering from a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. However, we all know Americans love diets and weight loss fads.
Now that gluten-free diets have become the latest healthy lifestyle trend, more and more U.S. adults want to jump on the bandwagon. However, many people don’t realize that a gluten-free diet isn’t necessarily healthy. Many people that choose to eliminate gluten from their diets find that they are actually gaining weight instead of losing it. There is a simple reason for this. Many gluten-free products are high in sugars and processed carbs.
For those that have gluten intolerance, a gluten-free diet can help reduce any damage and inflammation you may have in your digestive tract. When you decided to eat gluten-free, you are also more likely to pay attention to what you’re eating, which will lead to less processed foods and a higher quality of grains.
Consequences of a Gluten-Free Diet
While there are good things that can come of a diet without gluten, there are some very negative consequences of a gluten-free diet. A recent study at the University of Illinois found that those without gluten in their diets may have a greater intake of the toxic metals, arsenic, and mercury.
This study found that those with gluten-free diets had nearly twice the amount of arsenic in their urine and 70 percent higher mercury level in their blood, compared to others in the survey. While more research is needed, it is obvious that this poses a great health risk.
Arsenic and mercury can raise the risk of heart disease, cancer, and neurological issues at high levels. This is something you will want to tell you patients, so they know the danger they could put themselves in.
Beyond toxic metals in your body, if you eliminate gluten, you may end up gaining weight due to eating food with processed carbohydrates and high sugar levels. Also, if you aren’t getting enough fiber in your diet, it can lead to digestive issues.
The Bottom Line
If you have a patient that does not have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease that is thinking about a gluten-free diet, make sure they understand the consequences that may arise. You want to encourage your patients to tell you or ask you about making a major diet change. If your patient decides to go gluten-free on their own, and then later want you to test them for celiac disease, it will affect the results of a blood test.
If your patient does not have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, encourage them to instead choose a diet with high-fiber carbs, lean proteins, fruits and veggies, and healthy fats. Remind your patients that diets are not foolproof fixes for weight loss. Continuously eating right and exercising will go a lot longer than jumping from diet fad to fad.