You may have noticed a growing number of gluten-free products on your grocery store shelf or dishes on the menu of your local restaurant. In the following report, NY1 Health reporter Erin Billups explores whether cutting gluten out of your diet is a good idea if you don't have a sensitivity to wheat.
When Dan Schiffman turned 25, he started having issues with his digestion, fatigue, and joint pain.
"A friend recommended a gluten-free diet," Schiffman says. "I didn't really know what it was."
But he tried it and noticed a marked difference.
"The fatigue was gone," he says. "I was waking up with a tremendous amount of energy."
In an effort to make gluten-free living easier for others, Schiffman started gfreely.com a year ago.
"When I started this diet, I found it really challenging," he says.
Gfreely offers suggestions on how to live wheat-free and sells an assortment of products like Kale chips, made by NY Naturals in a Brooklyn factory.
Already, it has nearly 1,000 customers, speaking to what Dr. Peter Green, director at Columbia University's Celiac Disease Center, calls a worldwide phenomenon.
"There are some people who go on the diet because it's a bit of a trendy diet, and there are other people who found the diet because they have various symptoms and they find that they get better," says Green, who also practices at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia.
Schiffman says it's not a fad for his customers. It's about better access to snacks like Kale chips that help them live healthier lives.
"A lot of our customers are parents, and they're just trying to find healthier foods and products for their kids," Schiffman says.
Dr. Green says that those who feel better after cutting wheat out of their diet are gluten-sensitive, and may very well have Celiac, an autoimmune disorder where the body has a destructive reaction to gluten.
For them, cutting out gluten is essential. But for those who are not gluten-sensitive, the diet could become unhealthy.
Many products make up for the lack of gluten by adding more salt, fat and sugar, and gluten-free flours are not enriched with necessary vitamins.
"People on a gluten-free diet may become iron deficient or vitamin deficient, and they could develop anemia, fatigue," Green says. "If they're going to be on a gluten-free diet, they probably should seek some advice from an experienced nutritionist."
Green also urges those who feel they may have sensitivities to gluten to get tested for Celiac before switching their diet.