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Are Your Clients Thinking about Going Gluten-Free?

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, Gluten Free, Are your clients thinking about going gluten-free?

In the 1990s, it became all the rage to eat a diet low in fat and high in carbohydrates. After the 90s ended, the Atkins diet increased in popularity. Carbohydrates were the enemy, with protein and fat the favored macronutrients.

As a nation, we have continued to look for the next best way to lose weight. Oftentimes this involves cutting out major food groups. And for this battle, gluten has been declared public enemy number one.

What Is Gluten Anyway?

Gluten is a mixture of proteins found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. It is located in the endosperm of the grain’s kernel. 

Oats are also sometimes listed as containing gluten, but only because they are often processed with whole grains. Oats do not automatically contain gluten.

Gluten provides elasticity, helps the food maintain its shape, and gives it a chewy texture. So, what happened that caused gluten proteins to get such a bad name? 

Gluten Really Is Bad…for Some People

A gluten-free diet was first used for people with celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder characterized by gluten intolerance. Put another way, ingestion of gluten triggers an unpleasant physical reaction. This leads to symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, or malabsorption.

Many people with celiac disease have atypical, or non-gastrointestinal symptoms. For them, it can present as discomfort or fatigue. As a result, they don’t make the connection between their symptoms and the disease. 

These atypical symptoms help explain why many choose gluten-free diets without a confirmed diagnosis. They blame the gluten for feeling unwell or overly tired, but without any evidence or proof.

There is a similar condition called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS. This is not an autoimmune disorder, nor is it an allergy. But gluten sensitivity does trigger symptoms like those seen with celiac disease.

Currently, the only way to treat celiac disease or NCGS is complete elimination of gluten. So, if your client is one of the three million Americans with this disease, eating a gluten-free diet is recommended. 

What a Gluten-Free Fitness Diet Looks Like

Eating a gluten-free diet consists of removing all foods that contain gluten proteins. One of the hardest to drop is wheat. 

Wheat is in so many different foods, from breads to cereals to pastas. You can also find wheat in some seasonings and spice mixes. Chicken broth, malt vinegar, and certain condiments can contain wheat as well. Wheat is in many foods that aren’t typically associated with this grain. 

Because wheat should be avoided on a gluten-free diet, this eating plan is like a wheat allergy diet. Except, if you have a wheat allergy, the only grain you need to avoid is wheat. With celiac disease or NCGS, you must avoid foods that may not contain wheat but still have gluten.

Foods that fall into this category include barley, oats, and rye. Think also of foods that are made with these grains. For instance, beer is made with barley and many baked goods contain oats.

One way to get around gluten if you have celiac disease is to eat gluten-free grains. Quinoa, buckwheat, and millet are a few to consider. Another option is to use gluten-free flours to make your favorite baked goods. 

You can buy some gluten-free products at the grocery store. Items such as gluten-free bread and gluten-free beer are available. These help people with celiac disease enjoy their favorites without worrying about the impact on their small intestine. 

For clients interested in creating a gluten-free menu, many cookbooks teach the art of gluten-free cooking. These teach how to prepare delicious gluten-free meals. They contain gluten-free recipes for breads, quiches, soups, meat-based dishes, and more.

Clients should also be aware that cross contamination could be an issue. This is when a gluten-free food is exposed to a gluten food or ingredient. For instance, if a hamburger patty was originally placed in a bun, once removed, some gluten may remain. Clients with gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity must be cautious about how their foods are prepared.

Should Clients Without Celiac Disease Go Gluten-Free?

There is a false assumption that gluten is bad for everyone. That cutting it out will make you healthier and feel better. This assumption creates an irrational fear of gluten. Although, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Many people report that once they remove gluten from their diet, they have less bloating. This is perceived as weight loss. Yet, no evidence exists that giving up gluten provides someone without sensitivity any benefit. Living a gluten-free lifestyle is only necessary if one of these conditions exists.

Many times, bloating decreases because removing gluten often includes the removal of starches. Without starches in the diet, there is less fiber. Fiber tends to attract water for digestion and increases bloating. Remove the fiber, remove the bloat. 

Clients also tend to overlook the fact that gluten-free foods are highly processed. During this processing, many vitamins and minerals are lost. This leaves some of these foods with little nutritional value. Lost alongside the fiber are the many B vitamins naturally found in grains.

A 2014 study investigated the nutritional quality of more than 200 gluten-free products. Each one was compared to its gluten-containing counterpart. Researchers found significant differences in the nutritional content of gluten-containing and gluten-free foods.

Gluten-free bread contained almost one-third less protein. It also provided twice the amount of fat, mainly in the form of saturated fat. Gluten-free pasta also contained less protein, more total fat, and more saturated fat. Gluten-free bakery products contained more sodium and cholesterol.

Researchers also investigated the differences in nutrient intake. They found that those eating gluten-free were also eating less protein and fiber, and more saturated fat. A higher saturated fat intake can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

This supports a previous study connecting long-term gluten-free diets with nutritional inadequacies. More than ten percent had inadequate intakes of thiamin, folate, magnesium, and calcium. They were also taking in fewer other vitamins and minerals.

Gluten Free Diets and Client Needs

So, should you recommend that clients eat gluten-free with no confirmed gluten sensitivity? The short answer is no. If they’re still concerned, it may help ask whether they are experiencing symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Keratosis pilaris (chicken skin on the back of your arms)
  • Foggy mind
  • ADHD-like behavior
  • Depression
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headaches
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Chronic fatigue

That said, remember that some clients may exhibit no clear symptoms. This is true even if they have celiac disease or NCGS.

Any client worried about whether they should go gluten-free should consult their physician. Becoming a Certified Nutrition Specialist positions you to help clients better address their nutritional concerns and needs. In this course, you learn how to create a meal plan that supplies the necessary nutrients. A meal plan that also takes into consideration any diseases or health conditions.



1 Miranda J, Lasa A, Bustamante MA, Churruca I, and Simon E. (2014) Nutritional differences between a gluten-free diet and a diet containing equivalent products with gluten. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 69:182-187.

2 Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, and Krauss RM. (2010) Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 91(3):502-509.

3 Shephard SJ & Gibson PR. (2013) Nutritional inadequacies of the gluten-free diet in both recently diagnosed and long-term patients with celiac disease. J Hum Nutr Diet. 26:349-358.