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Is Eating Gluten-Free Really Better?

Many people don’t need to buy expensive gluten-free products, say researchers.

If you’ve jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon, you may be wasting your money. Researchers in Italy say that many people stocking up on special products made without gluten—a component of wheat, rye and barley flour—have “no reason to be on a gluten-free diet.”

Gluten-free is no small fad. The worldwide market for these products—such as special breads, crackers and even beer—is almost $2.5 billion, much of it the result of buzz on the Internet. “Claims seem to increase daily, with no adequate scientific support to back them up,” the researchers wrote.

For some people, gluten can cause severe problems. About one percent of the population suffers from celiac disease, a condition in which your immune system attacks the gluten that you’ve eaten. In the process, your small intestine is damaged, which makes it harder to absorb nutrients. People diagnosed with celiac disease have to avoid eating gluten entirely.

Many more people don’t have celiac disease but still complain of symptoms—bloating, headaches and flatulence—after eating food that contains gluten. This is called “nonceliac gluten sensitivity.”

The researchers, however, say that some people get sick from eating gluten simply because they think they will. Others have real symptoms, but gluten may not be the underlying cause. The people may actually be sensitive to other parts of the flour, or to other ingredients in the food.

If you think gluten might be causing some of your health problems, talk to your doctor before you order several cases of gluten-free beer. There’s also a cheaper way to reduce your gluten intake than buying expensive pre-packaged products—cooking for yourself.

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