It became the biggest food trend of the last year – going gluten-free. But with only 1% of the population needing to abstain from gluten, how did it become a $6-billion-dollar industry? Because a whole lot of people believed the hype – that a G-free diet would be everything from a magic weight-loss solution to the cure for all their ills. So, let’s separate some fact from fiction when it comes to the protein we all want to avoid like the plague.

  • What products contain gluten? Of course anything wheat-based – like bread, pasta, pancakes, cookies and crackers. But you can also find gluten in other foods you may not have thought of – like salad dressings, ketchup, turkey sausage and soup mixes. That’s because it’s used to add flavor and texture to foods. And some experts think that’s why Celiac disease – the autoimmune disorder that makes gluten toxic – has quadrupled in the last half century. Because we’re exposed to it more than we realize and that can send a body into overload.

  • So, how do you know if you need to eat gluten-free? You need to ask your doctor. A lot of people go off wheat products and say they feel better – but they may not realize they’re still consuming gluten in other foods. So, they may simply feel better eating fewer starches. Doctors have started to believe there IS such a thing as “gluten sensitivity” – in which you get headaches, bloating and fatigue after consuming it. But there’s no hard science to back it up. And when researchers tested volunteers, who claimed to be gluten-sensitive, for biomarkers of wheat intolerance, not one single volunteer tested positive. So, if you want to know for sure, get a blood test at your next check-up.

  • Going G-free will not automatically make you skinny. A lot of people actually gain weight! That’s because gluten is the ingredient that makes foods chewy and yummy – so when manufacturers remove it, they have to add other things to make up for it – and a lot of times, they add fat. For example, you can have 50 regular wheat pretzel sticks for 100 calories. But if you choose the gluten-free pretzel sticks, you can only have 35 for those same 100 calories – and they have 6 times the fat!

  • You’ll get less fiber. And fiber is necessary for losing weight. Plus, you’ll also miss out on vitamin B and iron. So, if you really want to lose weight by hopping on the gluten-free bandwagon, increase the amount of fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans you eat – and leave the gluten-free foods for the people who really need them.

If you're still trying to figure out whether gluten-free is right for you, you might want to talk to your doctor.