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The Pros and Cons of a Gluten Free Diet for RA

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.

Pros: 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.


Cons: 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.

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • sharoncookie57
    3 years ago

    I would like to find out why sugar is bad for RD

  • Lauren Tucker moderator
    3 years ago

    sharoncookie57,
    Great question! While the community may be able to provide you with additional feedback on why sugar may affect their RA, I thought these articles may help explain about sugar and RD.

    https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/sugar-season/
    https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/nutrition/revealed-10-aggravating-foods-avoid-ra/

    Please reach out to us anytime. Thanks for being part of our community.
    Best,
    Lauren (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Ann
    5 years ago

    I want to share this experience because I think gluten free eating is applied too generally across the board. I went on to a gluten and dairy free diet about 6 or so years ago for other issues and because my brother had celiac disease so thought it might benefit me. I did it for about a year. It had no effect on the issues and I put on weight because I ate too much non gluten starch. Later on I went on a lowish carb eating plan and that worked fantasticly. Energy up and issues resolved. I added low GI carbs in whole food form later. I found I have more issues eating hi carb foods like rice or starchy potatoes than low GI foods with gluten, for example fresh egg pasta (home made or without additives, made with high gluten wheat flour), or small amount of whole grain sourdough bread are better for me than rice noodles. In moderation, of course. Even moderate amounts of sugar is fine if I’m generally low carb/GI. I’m not saying gluten free is bad, but might be unnecessary for some, like me. I’m yet to embark on any RA or antiinflammatory eating plan as I have only recently been diagnosed. Still looking into it.

  • Summer
    5 years ago

    I had ALCAT testing done 6 weeks ago, and only then did I realize why a gluten-free diet didn’t help as much as I thought it might: I have a high sensitivity to rice. I was surprised also to find that I am sensitive to gluten – something that is not revealed in the celiac test, as it is a different reaction physiologically yet altogether as crucial.

    I would recommend this test to anyone who suspects a link between food, herbs, chemicals and their autoimmune symptoms. I haven’t needed my prescription meds for migraines or nausea since eliminating all the high, medium and low sensitivity items for which they tested my blood and am hopeful other symptoms might follow suit.

  • Leslie Rott moderator
    5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your experience. As a side note, people should talk to their own doctors before making any major lifestyle changes. What works for one person might not work for everyone.

  • beaut
    6 years ago

    Rather than stressing ‘gluten free’ I believe the dietary changes important for RA sufferers is reducing inflammatory foods from their diet which means grains (not only those with gluten, others are also inflammatory), refined sugars and refined vegetable oils. I have had wonderful results from removing those things from my diet, especially the sugar which is highly inflammatory. I can feel it within hours if I get into anything with sugar in it- it certainly is worth eliminating these things to see if they affect your RA; it will cost you nothing and you may have great results as many others have. I would say that you need to eliminate them for at least 3-4 weeks to gauge whether or not they are exacerbating your symptoms.

  • Leslie Rott moderator
    5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your experience. As a side note, people should talk to their own doctors before making any major lifestyle changes. What works for one person might not work for everyone.

  • Laura
    6 years ago

    I would just like to say that I am eating only meat, vegetables and fruit. Nothing else. No grains, beans, dairy. Let me tell you that it helps so much it crazy. The only time I have pain usually is when I wake up. I encourage everyone to give it a try. Also stay away from salt. Their is a little more to the program that I am on but clean eating will help clean the body.

  • Leslie Rott moderator
    5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your experience. As a side note, people should talk to their own doctors before making any major lifestyle changes. What works for one person might not work for everyone.

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