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Jane Anderson

Is Cutting Gluten from Your Diet Dangerous if You Don't Have Celiac?

By November 5, 2010

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Is the gluten-free diet "dangerous" for people who don't have celiac disease?

That's the conclusion ABC Nightline reporter Bill Weir drew repeatedly during a segment last night that featured Elisabeth Hasselbeck from ABC's The View, along with Dr. Peter Green, director of Columbia University's Celiac Disease Center.

While Hasselbeck (a celiac) argued that most people would enjoy increased energy levels by adopting a gluten-free diet (she even urged Weir to try a gluten-free trial), Dr. Green noted that some celiacs following a gluten-free diet long-term become deficient in B vitamins (wheat flour is fortified with those vitamins and gluten-free baked goods mostly are not). Dr. Green also said that some celiacs become calcium-deficient as well (he implied that this occurred because they had to give up milk due to lactose intolerance, but the segment didn't spell that out).

From this, Weir got "going gluten-free could be dangerous," which he repeated three times in the six-minute segment.

I'm really tired of hearing this. Human beings do not need to eat wheat, barley and rye to be healthy, and removing those foods from your diet is not inherently dangerous or even particularly unhealthy.

Now, it's obvious that eating a diet composed solely of gluten-free baked goods is not especially healthy, either - for anyone, celiac or not. It also could result in weight gain, since those gluten-free baked goods generally contain more calories than their gluten-filled counterparts. But I haven't seen celebrities out there recommending such a diet. Instead, some of them seem to be promoting pretty reasonable, nutritionally balanced diets that just happen to eliminate gluten.

I'm with Hasselbeck on this one: I think many people could benefit from a gluten-free diet - not just people with celiac disease.

Yes, it's possible that long-term adherence to the gluten-free diet might result in some vitamin and mineral deficiencies (as Dr. Green said), but you can discuss these with your doctor and ultimately correct them with supplements or through other food sources. I also don't think anyone's going to follow the diet long-term unless it makes them feel significantly better - it's just too difficult to follow unless you notice real benefits to your health. So those "long-term nutritional deficiencies" are likely never to become an issue for the vast majority of people trying the diet.

So is it "dangerous" to cut out gluten entirely? If you feel dramatically better on a gluten-free diet (regardless of whether you've been diagnosed with celiac or not), I'd argue that it's dangerous to leave gluten in.

November 8, 2010 at 9:06 pm
(1) Tracy says:

Thank you so much for writing this. Gluten adversely affects millions more people than those diagnosed with celiac; as you say, the diet is so difficult to adhere to that people would only do it if they experienced abatement of vexing symptoms. But our culture’s addiction to wheat is so powerful that people are afraid to acknowledge that–even doctors in the know, like Dr Green, and often people in the media who regularly feel compelled to skew their coverage towards dire warnings about the perceived dangers of gluten free eating as opposed to the experience of people who find relief from chronic issues when they stop eating gluten.

I wonder if Dr Green noticed that his colleague, Alesio Fasano, MD at the Univ. Of Maryland Celiac Center, was recently given a $45 million research grant from a grateful patient who Dr Fasano diagnosed not with celiac but with non-celiac gluten sensitivity? The patient, who is a nurse by profession, said she spent nine years coping unremitting symptoms before she tracked down Dr Fasano. How many doctors did she have to endure telling her not to eat gluten free since she didn’t have celiac before she finally find a doctor who helped her?

November 8, 2010 at 10:21 pm
(2) Elizabeth says:

Please..let’s get this straight…Ms Hasselbeck does not have Celiac disease…she is doing a dis-service to people with Celiac. There is nothing wrong with choosing to go gluten free..in fact, I believe that , that is a healthier diet…but for all of us to listen to Ms Hasselbeck..that is wrong. She does not have Celiac…she is a chosen Celiac…
Once again, there is nothing wrong with choosing to go gluten free…but for those people that have Celiac…We did not chose this. Ms Hasselbeck is making money off of this…I am glad she is bringing awareness..but I wish she would say that she is choosing to go gluten free.

November 8, 2010 at 11:16 pm
(3) Hermann says:

Does Dr. Green really think that wheat is the only food source containing B vitamins and that only milk contains calcium? It appears that most allopathic doctors obviously didn’t attend nutrition lessons while attending university. What a nonsense his statements are! We know that gluten in wheat increased considerably during the last twenty or so years. The grain industry badly needs lobbyists as more and more people are being diagnosed with problems related to gluten consumption. Notwithstanding the fact that the good Doctor probably never considered the possibility of taking supplements, fish and meat and quite a few plants contain B vitamins, as do Brewer’s Yeast and Blackstrap Molasses. Blackstrap Molasses and Brewer’s yeast also contain calcium as do almonds, broccoli, kale, figs, prunes, collards and many more plants and fruits. It is always good to think for oneself and do one’s own research rather than just listen to the self proclaimed experts, who are fairly often very sick people.

November 13, 2010 at 2:44 pm
(4) Janet says:

Elizabeth – I think you are doing a disservice to Ms. Hasselbeck by saying she doesn’t have celiac disease. From everything I’ve heard her say and write regarding her symptoms and what doctors have told her, it sounds like she most definitely does have celiac disease. You may not agree with her ideas, her politics or making money from writing a book about going on a gluten free diet but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have celiac disease.

I don’t agree with a lot of things regarding Ms. Hasselbeck and her views but I do believe she genuinely has the disease. I thought the Nightline piece was a piss poor bit of journalism produced by someone who had an axe to grind against a “fad” called the Gluten Free diet. Some have touted it as a good way to lose weight. Gluten free won’t in and of itself help you lose weight. There are good choices and bad choices that people can make that are all gluten free.

As Hermann says, grains are not the primary source of fiber, vitamin B or calcium in a healthy diet. Unprocessed fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy are naturally gluten free and are the best sources for vitamins, minerals and fiber. Any diet that focused on processed grains, whether gluten free or not, is going to be unhealthy.

November 24, 2010 at 4:24 pm
(5) Marco says:

Ahhhhh…. where to start?

1. I eat brown rice as my staple. I cook it in advance and freeze one cup servings.
In the morning I warm it up in the microwave with some margarine on top. I then add onion bits, kidney beans, cheeze and an egg for breakfeast.

Bozo the doctor above says that you will become vitamin B deficient.
Duhhh… Have you ever heard of vitamin B complex pills?
I open a capsule and pour a bit of it on a spoonful of food.
I also take other vitamins and supplements.

Lunch I now eat a big salad and some cottage cheeze.

Supper: I eat meat, vegetables, and sometime beans.

My own bozo doctor also thinks I’ll be nutritionally deficient
because I cut out all wheat and gluten.

I’m problably eating healthier than she is judging by her fat hips and huge thighs!

I lost weight on my diet!
Now that I have lots of energy, I can work out on my exercise bike and lift weights.

I couldn’t exercise before because I was always falling asleep, napping all the time, and sore all over.
I’d get injured lifting lighter weights. Now I can curl more weight with no injury.

Now I can work out, I eat lots of protein and I still hardly feel sore.
My friends say I’m now in hypermode after years of feeling sluggish and tired.

Doctors don’t have a damn clue about being healthy!
They’re so brainwashed by the pharmaceutical companies.
And themselves they have hanging guts, huge asses or big hips.

I don’t buy gluten free crap. I just eat more natural foods.
I also cut out glucose fructose foods to help me lose the weight but my Bozo the doctor doesn’t understand.

Thank you Dr Oz and Elisabeth Hasselbeck you changed my life and no thanks to the bozo doctors who want us to be sick all of our lives!

November 24, 2010 at 4:35 pm
(6) Patrick says:

About not eating wheat is bad for you, what about the billions of Chinese who are eating rice?
Are they all dead?

I agree with Hermann. I started a gluten free diet regarless of what the moronic doctors told me.
If I waited to be tested I’d still be waiting and feeling like I’m carrying 50 lbs everywhere I go.
The jackass doctor today didn’t want to me to continue my gluten free diet. I told her, I’m not going back to eating bread-gluten!!!

They’ll have to lock me up and force feed me bread because I’m not eating anymore of it!

January 2, 2011 at 12:43 pm
(7) Pamela says:

Just watched this segment. I’m not diagnosed with celiac, but am doing a lot of research as my dr. has recommended a trial gluten free diet due to stomach issues I am having. I also have auto-immune thyroid disease.

Seems to me that nightline cut Dr. Green off right where they wanted to support their “this diet is dangerous” story line. I got the impression that dr. Green went on to say more, but they cut him off. I just recently saw a lecture he gave in which he and other dr.’s at the celiac center discussed these issues and the importance of consulting a nutritionist to avoid deficiencies.

What no one points out is that Dr. Green is in fact Elizabeth’s Dr. and wrote the foreword to her book (the g-free diet). If he did not agree with what she was saying, wouldn’t he demand the foreword be removed. I’ll admit, I’m not a big fan of EH (her politics drive me nuts!), but I don’t think that segment told the whole story at all.

He now acknowledges non-celiac gluten intolerance may be much more prevalent than previously thought and that testing does not identify these cases.

Anyhoo, that’s my thought.

July 21, 2011 at 3:58 pm
(8) Ellen Serino says:

Gluten free starches need to be whole grain as much as possible, just as they do for everyone else. Brown rice, quinoa, whole kernel corn, buckwheat, wild rice, etc, are good ways to get the 800 nutriceuticals (naturally occuring beneficial chemicals) in whole grains, including salicylates, magnesium, and others. This also helps eliminate the possibility of B vitamin deficiences. Happy gluten free eating!

November 11, 2011 at 3:07 pm
(9) JP says:

After experiencing increasing joint pain, muscle aches, unusual fatigue, very little energy and more recently a persistent outbreak of eczema on my hands and lower legs, I elected to go to a gluten free diet. Within 3 DAYS my pain was 90% gone and my energy returned. Within one month all of my eczema disappeared and my skin was once again healthy. I have now been gluten free for nearly four months and have not felt this well in the past 15 years. Additionally, I have lost about 15 lbs. For me, gluten free has been nothing short of miraculous.

January 11, 2012 at 11:09 pm
(10) Michelle says:

I have suffered for years with symptoms related to gluten intolerance, but didn’t make the connection. My doctor did a blood test for Celiac and concluded that I do not have Celiac disease. I decided to try going gluten free just to see what would happen and I felt much better within a couple of days. By week 3, I have tons of energy, I am visibly happier, just naturally smiling more, I have less anxiety and I am able to begin exercising again (I couldn’t the last few years because I had no energy, I kept falling asleep and/or getting very sick after I ate). I am still in the process of clearing my cupboards of all gluten, but my hubby and I will be totally gluten-free withing the next few months (he’ll be gradually changing, because he feels fine, but I do not want to be cooking two different meals everyday).

You can’t always listen to your doctor. They know what they’ve studied and that’s it. They mean well, but if they are not a specialist in this area, I don’t think they know all of the symptoms or the implications of gluten intolerance. Mine doesn’t even believe that taking out gluten has stopped me from being sick after meals. She thinks it’s a coincidence!

July 30, 2012 at 7:38 am
(11) Chuck says:

I appreciate everyone’s comments, and I know some people have specific medical conditions that require precise diets. Over all, however, I find that “gluten free” for the average person will prove another “fad,” though it may take ten years or more. In my life, I’ve been told to drink and not drink coffee, to include caffeine and not to include it, to drink milk and to not drink mile, to eat sugar, to eat honey, to use calorie-free diet products, to avoid artificial sweeteners, to drink green tea, not to drink green tea… and now it’s “gluten free” time… so EAT YOUR GRAPE NUTS… and now, it’s wheat: don’t eat your GRAPE NUTS. I sometimes wonder if the constant dietary worry isn’t harder on the average person’s health than just following the advice of SHAKESPEARE and that the key, for eating, too, is to do so in a moderate fashion. We might have less stress and lead a healthier life.

August 20, 2012 at 12:37 am
(12) Kiwi says:

To Chuck: I think you’re are a little ignorant, although I would agree that over the years there’s been talk of coffee being bad and not being bad for you as well as other foods, but as for the gluten thing. I’m pretty sure that not a “fad” as you call it. More and more people are becoming intolerant to it as food is becoming more and more processed, especially wheat. In europe their wheat isn’t as processed and contains only 20% gluten whereas in Canada and the US it contains 80% or more gluten. No wonder we hear more and more cases of Gluten intolerance (including myself) and of Celiac. Almost everything that’s pre-packaged generally contains wheat in it. Too much of something obviously causes health problems.

August 29, 2012 at 6:45 pm
(13) Sara says:

I would just like to say that as a baker for over a decade I am concerned with many of the gluten-free products I see available. Personally, I have had customers who do not have a gluten allergy or intolerance opting for gluten-free products because they assume these products are healthier. As the baker, I am horrified that people who don’t need to avoid wheat are switching from organic, whole grain spelt baked goods to “gluten-free” analogues that consist primarily of refined, non-organic, gmo cornstarch and other refined starches held together with xanthan gum (also higher in fat and sweeteners). Seriously, if people who are concerned with the over-consumption of wheat turn to these sorts of gluten-free products as substitutes I assume that down the road we will start to see negative effects of this type of diet.
It is also worth noting that people who are preaching a gluten-free diet often have some sort of financial incentive to do so. Maybe it is just human nature, but it seems that it is hard for someone who is profiting off of the promotion of a gluten-free diet not to not overstate the health benefits. It is worth taking a good look at evidence-based health information in order to make informed decisions. I recommend the book “Gluten-Free Diet” by dietitian Shelley Case. She is one of Canada’s leading experts on celiac disease and the gluten free diet; she presents reasonable, fact-based information in her book and actually does not recommend the diet for those who do not have a diagnosed problem with gluten.
As some of the other comments have pointed out, it is possible to eat a healthy gluten-free diet by eating gluten-free whole grains and by avoiding most gluten-free baked goods/processed foods. I am truly interested in gluten-free baking that is based in whole grains; for all the celiacs out there, I hope there will be progress made in this area!

August 12, 2013 at 11:18 pm
(14) RL Phares says:

Grateful to you Jane Anderson for this Newsletter re:Celiac and GF living !
I am 73 years old and have just discovered the answer to years of rashes, cramps, diarrhea, joint pain, pimply skin areas, bloating,too abundant Post Nasal Drip, and more.
When I discovered that the rash I had was called DH, and was red flag to Celiac, and saw pictures online exactly like the ones I had taken for my doctor, I put an end to the itching that made me want to scratch my bones and lose my mind !
Two months ago JUNE 10, 2013, I decided to go Gluten Free. In two months time I have lost 14 pounds, which was a bonus, and the ONLY SYMPTOM I have remaining is residual rash now only on one leg, with no new outbreaks! I have not taken ANY Ibuprofin since June 30th , why???because I have NO MORE PAIN.
I won’t go on. All I can say here is that I am so glad I took the initiative and with the help of people like Elisabeth Hasselbeck and the information she has helped get out to the public, a book: WHEAT BELLY, by Doctor William Davis and my own desire to be well, and remove just ONE thing from my life. GLUTEN/WHEAT! One thing out of my diet and I am a new, healthy, vibrant,symptom-free woman!
Take supplements. Do some personal research. Desire HEALTH. Don’t listen to anyone but your own mind and heart. And you too can change your health and build a new healthy life.~

August 13, 2013 at 3:51 am
(15) Tom says:

Phares clearly has coeliac disease, complicated by one of the two serious, but thankfully rare accompanying pathologies, dermatitis herpetiformis, a very unpleasant itchy skin disease. The other rare disease complicating untreated coeliac disease is a malignant disease of the intestine called lymphoma, which is lethal if untreated, and indeed may not be remediable even when treated.
The argument in this correspondence appears to focus on whether non-coeliacs may enjoy better health on a gluten free diet. Well, they may, since there is also a non-coeliac wheat intolerance. If you do not have this or coeliac disease, eat normally. There are just too many delicious wheat based dishes denied to you on a wheat free diet, and however much the enthusiasts will try to tell you otherwise, gluten free bread is a very poor relation to proper bread. Mind you, proper bread is best eaten in France, where they really understand bread baking. Gluten free pastry varies in quality between unpleasant and inedible, and I speak as one who enjoyed 68 years of normal eating before developing coeliac disease 10 years ago.
So the clear message is: for coeliacs do not in any circumstance neglect a coeliac diet. For non coeliacs get a proper diagnosis before doing anything at all with your diet.

August 13, 2013 at 8:29 am
(16) Malia says:

I get upset when I see these reports also. It is discouraging people who may be sensitive to just try it. If you are Celiac or sensitive and try gluten free then you will become passionate about it! It’s only a “fad” to people who do not want to feel better or want an easy diet. To me it’s not just a diet to lose weight it’s a lifestyle so I have a LIFE. I wasted 10 years feeling terrible. Now at 50 I am back! No doctor told me to go gluten free I researched it for myself. I was low in B12 and D a year ago before I went GF and I took supplements and it leveled out. I feel confident all will be good on my next check-up. For me I would rather take a handful of vitamins than a handful of drugs. My health and well being is not worth eating any gluten filled junk. Eat to live not live to eat!

October 21, 2013 at 1:48 pm
(17) Goddessoflubbock says:

For those without a true intolerance this is yet another fad. I remember a time when store shelves were overflowing with low fat versions of everything. Most not reading labels didn’t realize they’d traded in a small amount of fat for copious amounts of sugar.

This glomming on to fads has created the new holiday table rule – eat what’s served or bring your own.

When I was growing up I knew 2 vegetarians. Well 40 years later, were still eating cows.

Back to the gluten thing – in an office of 50 people 19 of them are supposedly gluten free. That’s 38%! If they were actually resolving an illness, that illness would be an immense public health issue. But it’s not. Because they are just resolving their need to feel special. Funny not one exhibits these sudden surges of energy or ability to work harder AT WORK. Nope, they drag around like they always have. So yeah, no…

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