31st December, 20194 min read

Do you need to try a gluten or dairy-free diet?

Do you need to try a gluten or dairy-free diet?
Medically reviewed

Gluten and dairy-free diets are more popular than ever before because many people now believe that a diet that's free from gluten and/or dairy is ‘healthy’. But there may be serious side effects to eliminating gluten or dairy from your diet if you don’t need to.

Don’t assume that a gluten or dairy-free diet is the right choice for you because it may not be. Instead, read on to find out the true risks and benefits of removing dairy and gluten from your diet.

When to go gluten or dairy-free

If you have coeliac disease or lactose intolerance, cutting gluten or dairy out of your diet may be the only way to manage your condition. However, there’s little evidence to suggest that gluten or dairy-free diets will help people without these conditions to lose weight, increase energy levels, improve digestive health or clear acne.

Adopting a gluten or dairy-free diet can also have a serious impact on your health and make you deficient in essential nutrients, including:

  • fibre
  • iron
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • vitamin B1 (thiamine)

Studies show that following these diets without a clear medical need can increase your risk of conditions like cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. If you think there’s a medical reason to try a gluten or dairy-free diet, speak with a doctor. They’ll be able to advise you on whether such a diet is right for you.

What you need to know about going gluten-free

Gluten is a protein that’s found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains.

If you have coeliac disease or a wheat allergy, gluten irritates the lining of your small intestine, causing it to become inflamed and damaged. Gluten may affect people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, but current evidence draws no definite links.

If you’re diagnosed with coeliac disease or a wheat allergy, eliminating gluten from your diet is vital. However, see a doctor before changing your diet.

How to cut gluten out of your diet

Cutting gluten out of your diet can be tricky for several reasons. Firstly, finding tasty alternatives to bread, pasta, cakes, beer and breakfast cereals can seem difficult. Secondly, gluten is often used in foods you might not expect it to be used in, such as sauces and ready meals. You can avoid accidentally eating gluten by reading food labels carefully. Look for ingredients like:

  • wheat
  • rye
  • barley

What are the risks of going gluten-free?

Many foods that contain gluten are an important source of fibre, iron and other essential nutrients. If you’re going gluten-free, you’ll need to find alternative sources to reduce your risk of developing a nutritional deficiency. Talk to a doctor or dietician before going gluten-free. They can help you to create a diet plan that minimises this risk.

What you need to know about going dairy-free

Dairy products like milk or yoghurt contain a sugar called lactose. Some people have reactions to lactose (lactose intolerance), leading to symptoms like:

Do you think you might be lactose intolerant? If so, a dairy-free diet is probably a good choice but there are downsides to making the switch.

What are the risks of going dairy-free?

Dairy is a good source of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12. A dairy-free diet may make you deficient in these nutrients and increase your chance of developing osteoporosis. If you’re thinking about going dairy-free, speak to a doctor about alternative sources of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.

What are the alternatives to a gluten or dairy-free diet?

If you have coeliac disease, lactose intolerance or another medical condition, going gluten or dairy-free may be the only way to control your symptoms. See a doctor, then arrange follow-ups to monitor your health during any diet changes.

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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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