12 Myths About Gluten

  • bread-with-wheat
    Popular Misconceptions
    By this point, almost everyone has heard of gluten. This protein, found in wheat, barley, and rye, takes the blame for everything— from stomach troubles, to autism and schizophrenia. Though people with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, must avoid gluten, many others have misconceptions about the condition.

  • Eating dinner
    Myth #1. Gluten-free diets work well for everyone.
    To stay healthy, people with celiac disease should not eat gluten. Some people have gluten intolerance or allergies, which cause milder reactions. Avoiding gluten can reduce symptoms in these people. If you don’t have these conditions, going gluten-free may unnecessarily limit your healthy food choices.

  • No bread
    Myth #2. Celiacs can cheat on their diet every once in a while.
    When people with celiac disease eat gluten, the protein damages their intestines and prevents their bodies from absorbing certain nutrients. Our bodies need these proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals to function. Even trace amounts of gluten harm your health if you have celiac disease, regardless of whether you feel sick right away.

  • Man holding pills
    Myth #3. Only grain-based foods contain gluten.
    Wheat bread, pasta, and cereal commonly contain gluten. But gluten lurks in many more places than you’d expect. For instance, it’s used to bind processed foods together, in medicines, and lip balms. Read labels closely and ask your doctor or dietitian for help in uncertain situations.

  • close up of water boiling in pot on stove
    Myth #4. At restaurants, asking about the ingredients is good enough.
    Kitchen staff can contaminate even gluten-free foods during the cooking process. For instance, they may cook eggs and pancakes on the same griddle. Ask the chef to prepare your meal using separate, thoroughly washed utensils, pans, and surfaces.

  • Tired woman in bed
    Myth #5. Gluten allergies affect only your gastrointestinal system.
    Many people with celiac disease or gluten allergies experience diarrhea and bloating. But symptoms can also include joint pain, headaches, canker sores, sleep problems, fatigue, and irregular periods. Some evidence links gluten to the skin disease psoriasis and to seizures in people with epilepsy.

  • Young-doctor-with-senior-patient-smiling-at-camera
    Myth #6. If you think you have celiac disease, start a gluten-free diet right away.
    Signs such as those in the previous slide may drive you to give up gluten on your own. Waiting pays off, though. You need gluten in your system for tests that diagnose the condition to work properly. Instead, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your concerns.

  • grilled-chicken-skewers
    Myth #7. You can’t eat balanced, delicious meals on a gluten-free diet.
    Though you do have to choose carefully, options abound. For breakfast, try an egg-white omelet with low-fat cheese and veggies. For lunch, toss spinach with grilled chicken and gluten-free dressing. Dine on rice noodles with veggies and tofu, or corn tacos stuffed with lean beef for dinner.

  • Nutrition facts
    Myth #8. “Wheat-free” and “gluten-free” mean the same thing.
    Foods free of wheat can still contain rye or barley. Check labels closely. Other words indicating gluten content include graham flour, triticale, kamut, semolina, and spelt. Look out for surprising sources of gluten, including broth, imitation fish, lunch meat, and candy.

  • Oatmeal
    Myth #9. Oats don’t contain gluten, so they’re completely safe.
    Although oats don’t contain gluten as grown, most manufacturers process them in facilities with other grains. If you chose to consume them, talk with your doctor first. Look for brands labeled gluten-free, and eat no more than a half-cup of them per day.

  • Girl eating apple
    Myth #10. Only foods labeled “gluten-free” belong in a gluten-free diet.
    Plenty of whole foods naturally don’t contain gluten. Safe choices include fresh fruits and vegetables, pure juices, eggs, lentils, honey, seeds, and tree nuts. Unprocessed meats—including fish, chicken, and beef—are also gluten-free. And you can eat other whole grains, including corn, rice, amaranth, kasha, millet, and quinoa.

  • mother-and-daughter-eating-on-airplane
    Myth #11. You can’t travel if you have celiac disease.
    With advance planning, you can safely dine at any destination. Research the food options at your hotel and nearby. Pack one meal’s worth of food—for instance, tuna with gluten-free crackers. Once you arrive, ask the same questions about ingredients and preparation you would at any restaurant.

  • Kids eating sandwiches
    Myth #12. Children with autism and ADHD should follow gluten-free diets.
    Some parents swear by this treatment. But scientific evidence doesn’t back them up. Cutting gluten unnecessarily could cause kids to miss nutrients they need to grow, including iron and B vitamins. Only children with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity need gluten-free diets. A dietitian can help ensure they follow it healthfully.

12 Myths About Gluten

About The Author

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  4. Traveling With Celiac Disease. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, Feb. 14, 2013. (http://www.celiac.nih.gov/TravelingWithCeliac.aspx);
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  8. What Foods Have Gluten? American Diabetes Association, 2013. (http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/gluten-free-diets/what-foods-have-glute...; Does my child need a gluten free diet? Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2013. (http://www.eatright.org/kids/article.aspx?id=6442464344&terms=gluten);
  9. Learn About Celiac Disease. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2013. (http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442467394&terms=gluten);
  10. Avoiding Gluten Cross-Contamination. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, April 2013. (http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442470092);
  11. A Glimpse at 'Gluten-Free' Food Labeling. Food and Drug Administration, April 12, 2013. (http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm265212.htm);
  12. Gluten-Free/Casein-Free Diets. American Academy of Pediatrics, May 11, 2013. (http://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/pages/Gluten-Free-Casein-Free-Diets....;
  13. Seizures and Epilepsy: Hope Through Research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, June 21, 2013. (http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/epilepsy/detail_epilepsy.htm?css=print);
  14. Can a gluten-free diet help your psoriasis? National Psoriasis Foundation, 2013. (http://www.psoriasis.org/about-psoriasis/treatments/alternative/gluten-free-diet);
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Aug 27
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