TIME Diet/Nutrition

6 Myths About Gluten-Free Diets You Shouldn’t Believe

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Danny Kim for TIME

Yes, you can still eat quinoa

If you haven’t already gone gluten-free, I bet you’ve at least thought about it. Roughly one-third of Americans say they want to cut down on gluten or eliminate it from their diet, per the most recent numbers. Yet most people have no idea what gluten—a type of protein naturally found in wheat (including spelt, Kamut, farro, and bulgur), barley and rye—actually is.

Many are confused about whether they would benefit from cutting gluten and not sure what that even entails. Some believe they have to shun all carbs (they don’t). Others think that going g-free will make pounds melt away (in fact, you can gain weight if you don’t do it right). Here are the facts behind the most common misconceptions so you can make the right call for your waistline and overall health.

Health.com: How to Go Vegan and Still Get All Your Nutrients

Myth: Everyone needs to go gluten-free

Truth: Your body and symptoms should guide you.

There are two groups of people who absolutely must cut gluten. People who have the autoimmune disorder celiac disease need to strictly avoid it, because even small amounts cause their immune system to damage or destroy villi, the tiny, fingerlike outgrowths that line the small intestine. When villi get damaged, they can’t absorb nutrients properly, which can lead to pain and extreme fatigue. If you have celiac (which can be diagnosed with a blood test and biopsy of the small intestine), nixing gluten is the only way to reverse the damage and ensure you get the nutrients you need from food.

What if you test negative for celiac but feel crummy when you eat bagels, pasta and the like? You may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), which can cause rashes, bloating, mental fogginess, and fatigue. There is no universally accepted test for the condition, though, so if you think you have it, the only solution is to completely avoid gluten and monitor how you feel; consult a registered dietitian for help. (Adding to the confusion, it’s also possible to be allergic to wheat, which means you have an immunologic reaction that shows up through conventional allergy testing; you must drop wheat from your diet, but you may still tolerate gluten-containing foods like barley and rye.)

Myth: Cut it and your body will miss key nutrients

Truth: Your body doesn’t need gluten

Gluten itself is a type of protein, and proteins can be obtained from many other foods, so it’s perfectly safe to forgo it, even if it doesn’t cause you any ill effects. A well-executed gluten-free eating plan can actually be a smart strategy for improving the healthfulness of your diet. It often means buying fewer processed foods and eating more fresh, fiber-rich fare; that step alone can translate to a better diet. Just be sure to sidestep the pitfalls—more on that to come.

Myth: Going gluten-free will lead to weight loss

Truth: Some people lose, some gain

Anytime you remove an item from your diet, there’s a danger that you will replace it with something that hurts your weight-loss efforts. It’s all too easy to load up on gluten-free junk foods, like cookies and chips, thinking you’re being virtuous. And some people start eating bigger portions, believing it’s all so healthy that it doesn’t matter (calories still count). Also, avoid swapping gluten-containing refined grains, like white pasta, for gluten-free refined grains, like white rice, which does nothing for weight loss. Trade up to gluten-free whole grains.

Health.com: From Paleo to Atkins: How Popular High-Protein Diets Stack Up

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