Should You Avoid Gluten?

Gluten-free pastry

May 25, 2022

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Robert Aaron, M.D.

Gluten-free diets are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., with millions of Americans following one. But while the number of gluten-free dieters has grown considerably, the number of people who are medically diagnosed as gluten-intolerant has remained flat, suggesting that the majority of people on gluten-free diets are doing so without a known medical benefit.

“Gluten is not bad for your body if you can tolerate it,” says Robert S. Aaron, M.D., gastroenterologist at Bayshore Medical Center. “Pay attention to how you feel or how your body reacts when you consume food or beverages that contain gluten, and talk with your doctor if anything concerns you.” 

When Is Gluten Harmful?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat plants, barley, rye and triticale, and it is processed by an enzyme called protease. However, protease does not completely break down all the gluten we consume.

“The gluten that remains undigested makes its way to the small intestine, which for most people is perfectly fine,” says Dr. Aaron. 

The remaining  gluten can be harmful to certain people who have: 

  • Celiac disease, a chronic autoimmune disease that causes damage to the intestine
  • Gluten ataxia, a neurological autoimmune disease that attacks the brain
  • Gluten intolerance 
  • Wheat allergy

What to Do if You Suspect a Gluten Problem

Talk to your doctor if you experience any of these constant symptoms, which could stem from a gluten-related condition: 

  • Diarrhea 
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Itchy rashes
  • Weight loss 
  • Growth delay in children

If your doctor suspects celiac disease or a gluten-related condition, they may recommend certain genetic tests, blood tests and biopsies to determine the cause.

For those who need to or want to avoid gluten, there are plenty of gluten-free foods and alternatives, including:

  • Quinoa
  • Corn
  • Rice, including wild rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Flax
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Eggs
  • Soy

Next Steps & Resources:


The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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