Should you take a 2-week break from gluten?

Man breaking loaf of bread

Even if you're sick of hearing about gluten all. the. time., it'd be tough to ignore the findings of this study by Italian researchers.

The gist: People who don't have celiac disease who say they're "gluten sensitive" may have a certain inflammatory protein to blame.

It's called zonulin and, normally, it's what helps you fight off a bout of food poisoning; so it's technically a good thing. But, study authors believe some people release excess amounts of the stuff after consuming gluten—resulting in an onslaught of not-so-fun symptoms ("brain fog," fatigue, bloating; see the full list here). 

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More research is needed but a trial testing whether it's possible to temporarily shut down zonulin production will soon be underway, NPR reports. That, in turn, may lead to a medication to help both celiac disease sufferers and those who are gluten-sensitive to manage their symptoms.

"If you are having unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms or suspect intolerance to gluten you may consider a 2-6-week elimination trial," says Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., a registered dietitian at the Mayo Clinic. 

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Even if you feel no different (you're in the clear on the gluten front), shunning gluten for a few weeks has some perks: It's a good diet-quality check since it forces you to look more closely at the foods you eat, ingredient labels, etc., says Zeratsky. Plus, it may encourage you to try healthy gluten-free grains that you might not have otherwise. (Here are just a few you should eat, gluten-sensitive or not.)

Once your trial ends—if you feel no real difference—add some healthy gluten-filled foods back in to your diet.

"A gluten-free diet is a restrictive diet and not easy to follow," says Zeratsky.

And if you're an athlete, you'll need to rethink your carbo-loading routine. (However, gluten-sensitive athletes should know: It is possible to consume enough carbs from fruits, starchy vegetables, and dairy to fuel your body through tough workouts, per Zeratsky.)

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Want to test-drive a gluten-free diet? Bear in mind these tips from Zeratsky: 

  1. Read labels: Gluten lurks in some surprising foods like salad dressing and ketchup.
  2. Check out gluten-free grains: Millet, buckwheat, and amaranth are just a few to try.
  3. Know that "gluten-free" does not mean "healthy": There are many gluten-free foods that are highly processed and no healthier than any other highly processed foods.

Disclaimer: Always talk to your doctor or an R.D. if you're unsure whether any diet change—even a temporary one—is right for you.

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