- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2016

A gluten-free diet may do more harm than good — especially among children — as more people abandon foods for a “fad” that comes with significant health risks, a gastroenterologist warns in a new report.

Norelle Rizkalla Reilly, director of the pediatric program at Columbia University’s Celiac Disease Center, is countering claims that excluding gluten is an across-the-board way of eating healthy in an article published Friday in the Journal of Pediatrics.

While millions of people with celiac disease require gluten-free diets to treat the chronic autoimmune condition, Dr. Reilly said individuals who haven’t been diagnosed with the disease aren’t helping their bodies by excluding foods like wheat, rye and barley.

“For individuals who do not have [celiac disease],” she wrote, there is “no data supporting the presumed health benefits of a [gluten-free diet].

“In fact, the opposite may be true in certain cases, particularly when the diet is followed without the guidance of an experienced registered dietitian or physician,” warned the gastroenterologist.

Dr. Reilly told The Atlantic that Google data showed a major spike in queries for “gluten-free” during the past several years while “celiac disease” searches have stayed flat.

“I thought that was particularly illustrative of how the popularity of this diet has increased, totally out of proportion to any sense of awareness of celiac disease,” she said.

Of particular concern are children being subjected to gluten-free diets without being properly diagnosed, she said.

Foods advertised as gluten-free frequently have a greater density of fat and sugar than their gluten-containing counterparts, and research suggests individuals who forego foods with gluten have a tendency of becoming overweight as a result of missing vital nutrients often absent in gluten-free foods, Dr. Reilly added.

About one in 141 people have serious problems with gluten, though one in five are on gluten-restrictive diets, Dr. Richard Besser, the chief health editor at ABC News, said Friday on “Good Morning America,” citing National Institute of Health statistics.

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