Tame Your Tummy Trouble

Will a Gluten-Free Diet Improve Your Health?

Gluten-free doesn't equal healthy
If you suspect your body can't tolerate gluten, the first thing you should do is get tested for celiac disease. If the test comes back negative, try a gluten-free diet for a week to see if you feel better, Dr. Leffler says. Cutting out gluten is the most reliable way to determine if you are, in fact, sensitive to the protein—and if you are sensitive, it's the only treatment.

However, Dr. Leffler stresses that you should get help from a dietitian to make sure that you avoid hidden sources of gluten (like soy sauce and salad dressing), and that you don't miss out on the vitamins that wheat products provide.

Even though celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Gwyneth Paltrow have reportedly cut out gluten to "detox," there's nothing inherently healthier about a gluten-free diet. "It can be very healthy, or it can be junk food," says Dee Sandquist, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

Some of the many gluten-free products on the market can be unhealthy, Dr. Fasano says, because manufacturers add extra sugar and fat to simulate the texture and satisfying fluffiness that gluten imparts.

Another potential pitfall is that gluten-free products are less routinely fortified with iron and vitamins B and D than regular bread products, Sandquist says. "Vitamins B and D are the ones particularly at risk of being deficient in [gluten-sensitive] people."

If you plan to go gluten free, select more fruits, vegetables, and lean meat, and more naturally gluten-free grains like brown rice, quinoa, and buckwheat, rather than just buying prepackaged products labeled "gluten free," Sandquist says. She adds, however, that gluten-free products are "evolving" and may become healthier overall as manufacturers develop ways to fortify them.