Gluten-free diets gain popularity

Published On: Jan 03 2012 02:30:15 PM EST
Updated On: Jan 05 2012 04:34:35 PM EST

The debate over the health benefits of avoiding gluten is growing.

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. -

In 2008, Amy Tecowsky suffered from so much joint pain she could hardly move. She quickly started packing on the pounds.

"I just didn't feel good and I couldn't do things," she said.

Tecowsky said her pain subsided and she lost more than 50 pounds by going gluten-free.

"People are telling you gluten is fine. People are telling you it's not fine. It's a controversy," said Dr. David Blyweiss.

Gluten is a special type of protein found in grains, but it's also incorporated into everything from ketchup to candy.

People with a condition called celiac disease cannot consume gluten, but experts differ on whether the general population should be avoiding gluten.

"If someone doesn't have a need to get rid of gluten, it's a choice for them," said Lillian Craggs-Dino, a nutritionist with the Cleveland Clinic Florida.

Craggs-Dino said gluten is actually a good plant-based protein that can provide vital nutrients, especially for vegetarians.

"If they're just getting rid of gluten and don't know what to replace them with, then they're cutting out a whole food group. That could lead to vitamin deficiencies," she said.

Blyweiss believes going gluten-free can improve overall health and facilitate weight loss.

"Gluten is triggering a high blood sugar. It's crossing the brain barrier creating glutio-morphine, the operative word there being morphine, so when you don't eat it, you have a craving to eat it again," he said.

If weight loss is your key goal, be careful when choosing products that claim to be gluten-free.

"Some of the gluten-free products actually have higher sugars or fats to make them more palatable," said Craggs-Dino.

"You can still gain weight with all the starches that are gluten-free," said Blyweiss.

Tecowsky said she's managed to find tasty gluten-free foods and keep her weight stable.

"This has really been a turnaround for me, and it's changed my life," she said.

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