Most of the population has no reason to avoid gluten-containing foods. There is no proof that a gluten-free diet has a positive effect on healthy people. On the contrary, whole grains, which contain gluten, are a good source of fibre, vitamins and minerals(1). Wholegrains are also associated with significant reductions in risk for type-2 diabetes and heart disease. They are also more favourable in long-term weight management. Gluten-free products are often made with refined grains, and are lower in nutrients. A medical professional should supervise gluten-free diets, as they can be deficient in fibre, iron, foliate, niacin, thiamine, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and zinc.
However, for a small part of the population, i.e. people affected by gluten-related disorders, following a gluten-free diet is recommended if not essential. This is the case for people with coeliac disease, a genetic autoimmune disease in which the small bowel is inflamed and made leaky by gluten. Between 0.5 and 1% of the population in the western world(2) is affected by this disease.
Besides coeliacs and people suffering from wheat allergies, it was recently shown that another small part of the population can experience some difficulties after consuming wheat-based products. Such people are not diagnosed with coeliac disease or a wheat allergy. Researchers call this newly-emerged condition ‘non-coeliac gluten sensitivity’ and estimate that around 5% to 10% of the population suffer from it(3).
However, little is known about this disease: many aspects such as the exact causes (is it really gluten?) and the mechanism of action remain unknown.
1. ANSES, French food composition table, 2013.
2. EFSA, Scientific Opinion on the evaluation of allergenic foods and food ingredients for labelling purposes, EFSA Journal 2014; 12(11): 3894.
3. F; Brouns. Does wheat make us fat and sick? Journal of Cereal Science 58 (2013) 209e215.