American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise

gluten-free diet facts

Miley Cyrus recently took to Twitter to defend her gluten-free diet in response to claims that she has an eating disorder, People reported.

"For everyone calling me anorexic I have a gluten and lactose allergy," the singer/actress Tweeted.

Cyrus isn't the only celebrity who supports the popular gluten-free diet. But just because more people are adopting this specific diet, does it mean it's a healthy choice for you?

ACE Senior Fitness Consultant of Nutrition and Weight Management, Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD, provided some answers on whether or not a gluten-free diet was healthy or just a fad, and whether or not it could improve athletic performance.

She said that "historically (and scientifically) a gluten-free diet only has been considered necessary for people with a relatively rare, but debilitating disease known as celiac disease." Celiac disease affects almost one percent of the population, but gluten sensitivity is much more common. Those who have gluten sensitivity report tiredness, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation.

Since these gastrointestinal discomforts can plague athletes in an endurance event, many have experimented with cutting gluten out of their diets. Before doing this, however, Muth cautioned that it's important to understand the implications.

If you cut out gluten (and don't have celiac disease or a diagnosed insensitivity), you may deprive yourself of important nutrients, including adequate carbs to fuel your workout. So appropriate planning is crucial.

Also, gluten may not be to blame. There may be other factors contributing to your GI problems. "While gluten can be poison for a person with celiac disease, for most everyone else gluten itself is not inherently unhealthy," Muth said.

"Perhaps the best way for many people who do not have celiac disease to feel better, adopt an overall healthier way of life and achieve athletic gains is to continue to focus on minimally-processed foods (gluten free or not), eat a diet rich in wholesome foods like fruits and vegetables, and adequately prepare the gut for competition."

If you do need to adopt a gluten-free diet, however, and want to improve your fitness performance, Muth said working with a registered dietitian with a focus on sports nutrition can help. 

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