Even without a wheat allergy or celiac disease, many people are looking to wheat-free diets for health benefits.

“The market for gluten-free products is exploding,” said Peter H.R. Green, MD, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. “Why, exactly, we don’t know. Many people may just perceive that a gluten-free diet is healthier.”

Eating gluten-free means having to pay more attention to the nutritional content of the other foods in your diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. In whole-grain foods, you can find it in bulgur, faro, kamut, spelt and triticale, which is a mix of wheat and rye.

While not strictly gluten, many people include oats on their list of foods to avoid. While gluten itself offers no specific nutritional value, the foods which incorporate it do.

Avoid nutritional deficiencies

Bread includes a rich variety of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron, as well as fiber. Whole-grain foods may reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends half of all carbohydrates come from whole grain products. By eliminating bread and other carbohydrates which contain gluten, you must watch your nutritional intake to be sure you are adopting a healthful diet.

“Any time you eliminate whole categories of food you’ve been used to eating, you run the risk of nutritional deficiencies,” explained Green. Be sure to include other sources of B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and fiber.

Not the same as carbohydrate-free

Remember, too, that eating gluten-free is not eating carbohydrate-free. Many people confuse the two types of diets in hopes of losing weight quickly. Gluten-free products still contain carbs, and many include extra sugar to improve the flavor. You may also find extra fats to improve texture. Be sure to read your labels.

There are some whole grains which do not include gluten, including amaranth, millet, and quinoa.

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