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

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Updated June 04, 2014

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.

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