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Do I need to avoid gluten in my diet?

close up of packaged foods that advertise being gluten free

Gluten is a type of protein that’s found in wheat, rye, barley and foods made from these grains. It gives elasticity to baked goods, which provides the chewy texture that we all know. Gluten in made of two smaller proteins, called gliadin and glutenin. Gliadins and glutenins are the two main components of the gluten fraction in wheat.

Celiac disease is a disorder where gluten, the protein found in wheat and other cereals, damages the surface of the small intestine. Because of this effect, people with celiac disease must avoid products that contain gluten. The Canadian Celiac Association estimates that 1 in 133 Canadians are affected by celiac disease. The Whole Grain Council tells us that an additional 0.2% to 0.4% of the population may be allergic to wheat and, another 1-6% of the population may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

The gluten-free diet is meant for people who have an allergy or intolerance to wheat or gluten, but it has become increasingly popular as a weight loss strategy. There is no scientific evidence to link wheat or gluten to weight loss. Weight problems are not the fault of one food (or in this case one specific protein found in some foods); it’s total diet and lifestyle that matter.

People who do not have these symptoms or these medical conditions do not need to remove gluten from their diet. About 25 per cent of consumers report buying gluten free foods, many needlessly. Gluten-free foods are often more expensive, less healthy (more sugar, refined ingredients, fat and salt), and more processed than other staple foods.

For more information about gluten in your diet, read Gluten: what does the science say?