KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A new report in JAMA Internal Medicine finds the number of followers of a gluten-free diet is rising. That's even though the number of people with celiac disease, an immune reaction to gluten, is holding steady. The report suggests that number isn't rising because more people are avoiding gluten. One metro doctor says it's great to go gluten-free, but you should avoid gluten-free products.
Linda Singer notices those gluten-free labels. She has to avoid the protein found in wheat and related grains because she has celiac disease. It was diagnosed when she had a persistent rash.
"And it was extremely itchy and (I) thought my goodness, now I've got a chance to feel better," Singer said.
She says she's felt much better overall since eliminating gluten from her diet. The new report finds about 2.7 million other Americans have also eliminated it, not because they have celiac, but because they think gluten-free eating is healthier.
Dr. James O'Keefe cautions that products marked gluten-free generally are not healthier.
"I would say gluten-free products -- avoid. I would say avoid gluten-free products as much as you avoid gluten. Seriously," said the cardiologist at Saint Luke's Hospital.
Dr. O'Keefe says that's because many of the products contain refined grains -- refined carbohydrates.
"So things like white flour and added sugar will spike the sugar in your bloodstream and cause inflammation and obesity and all sorts of problems down the road," he said.
He says for people who don't have celiac, the healthy part of being gluten-free is being free of refined grains and carbs.
"You're better off with leafy greens, nuts, olive oil, fish," he said.
Singer says she does eat some gluten-free bread, but only about three slices a week.
"Try it for a month and I bet you feel a little better. Just because you have more energy," she said, referring to eating less grain.