The Pros and Cons of a Gluten Free Diet for RA
Last updated: June 2023
Many people are wondering if they should try a gluten-free diet. Even if you haven't been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, there still may be benefits to trying it. But to balance that out, there are some negatives as well.
Some benefits of a gluten-free diet for RA
You might start feeling better with less pain. A study by Hafstrom et. al. (2001) showed that some people with rheumatoid arthritis benefited from a gluten-free diet and had fewer flare-ups. It might be worth a try to see if you’re one of the people sensitive to gluten. But remember, just like you can't be half-pregnant, you can't give up gluten half of the time and expect to see any results. A good way to really see if it would benefit you is to go 30 days on a strict gluten-free diet, and then eat some food with gluten and see how you feel.
On a gluten-free diet you may be more likely to try some new grains that you probably haven’t tried before. There’s a long list of gluten-free whole grains that we don't often hear about including sorghum, buckwheat (don't let the name fool you, it's gluten-free), amaranth, millet, as well as the more popular quinoa and rice. Most of them are quite tasty and offer a variety of nutrients too.
You’ll probably eat a lot more fruits and vegetables and fewer overly processed foods on a gluten-free diet. Gluten is in a lot more products than you realize and if you’re going to be gluten-free that means finding healthy substitutes for some of your favorite gluten containing foods. It might be difficult in the beginning, as any change would be, but it’s worth a try if it helps you feel better.
Negative aspects of a diet change
You might try something new and it doesn’t work. Well, don’t be upset about this! Each person is unique and has unique solutions. Not everything will work for everyone and the research isn’t conclusive. So think about the decision and how it will impact your life, especially your social life before you make the change. Plan your food budget, and purchase whole foods that are naturally gluten free like fruits, vegetables, beans, lean meats, brown rice, nuts and seeds instead of gluten-free ready to go meals and snack foods, which may cost more.
Another reason why a gluten-free diet may not work is that there are a lot of gluten-free processed foods, so while someone may be hoping to see health improvements, they could still be eating a lot of foods that do not promote a healthy body and contain too many omega 6 fatty acids. Overly processed food is not health promoting, whether it contains gluten or not. It was once thought that you might lose weight going gluten-free, but with all these new packaged gluten-free foods, it’s not as common any more.
Make an educated decision
When considering the pros and cons, the pros seem to outweigh the cons. If you try it for a month, the worst thing that happens is you miss some of your favorite foods. Set yourself up for success by making an appointment with a registered dietitian who specializes in gluten free diets or celiac disease. With a referral from your primary care physician, your insurance may cover the cost of the appointment. In addition, many grocery stores have registered dietitians on staff so call and ask if they offer a shopping tour that features gluten free products. Get educated before you start, because to measure intolerance you need to be 100% gluten free first. If you try it and like it, a gluten-free diet could become the life-changer for you that it has become for many other people.
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