Thinking about going gluten-free? You’re not alone: A recent survey showed that 29 percent of Americans are interested in either giving gluten up altogether or vastly reducing their intake. And most of them do not have celiac disease and are not gluten sensitive. Is a gluten-free diet a healthy way to lose weight, and a sustainable long-term habit? Or is it just the latest fad that will soon go the way of the fat-free craze?

Nutritionists and dieticians say that while there can be some benefits associated with a gluten-free diet, it’s healthiest to include small amounts of most types of food in a diet; in other words, don’t restrict unless it’s necessary.

“What I find is a lot of times when people go gluten-free and they don’t have to, the overall quality of their diet improves because they’re thinking about food choices and eating more fruits and vegetables,” said Dee Sandquist, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “But you can’t say it’s just because they’re going gluten-free.”

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Because so many Americans eat so many carbohydrates, going gluten-free often cuts back on overall calories, because there simply aren’t as many gluten-free choices. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. People naturally turn to fruits and vegetables when their carb choices are cut back, and because they’re then eating less calorie-dense foods, they often lose weight.

“Most people overeat grains, so low gluten can be useful for weight loss,” said Joanne Slavin, a nutrition professor at the University of Minnesota. “So that’s OK, but the frustrating thing to me is this trend of what’s the bad guy of the year: low-carb, low-fat, gluten-free?”

In other countries, people slow down, enjoy their food, and know that no one food is evil, she said.

Wheat gluten wrapped up in a bamboo leaf, Nanzen-ji, Kyoto, Japanpasmal/amanaimages/Corbis

“A healthy diet comes down to finding a way for people to meet their nutritional needs with food they like and are able to eat,” said Mark Haub, a nutrition professor at Kansas State who once went on a “Twinkie diet” as an experiment.

“Whether it be Paleo or low-carb or low-fat or vegan, when people restrict certain foods they sometimes go nuts because they like bread with wheat flour. So for some people restricting gluten may help limit their caloric intake, but I don’t know how sustainable it is if they’re doing it for the wrong reasons.”

There are also some nutritional challenges in a gluten-free diet: people can find themselves deficient in iron, calcium, B-vitamins and vitamin D, Sandquist said. It can be hard to get enough fiber in a gluten-free diet. Also, it’s expensive.

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Still, for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, avoiding gluten is critical, dieticians said. Gluten is lurking everyone, Slavin said, although the upside of the trend is that it’s much easier to find gluten-free products now.

“I had a graduate student with celiac and we had a party for her with no gluten -- and it was not that hard, Slavin said. “We had salad, meats, cheeses, fruits -- it’s expensive, and it’s a little harder than straight grains, but it wasn’t too limited.”

Only 1 percent of the population has celiac disease, and 6 percent are gluten-sensitive, although it might seem like more, with celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Gwyneth Paltrow talking about it. And many people are self-diagnosing themselves with gluten sensitivity, Sandquist said.

“Maybe they’ve had the test for celiac and it’s negative, or maybe their best friend tried it and felt better,” she said.

Go ahead, Haub urges. If you love wheat bread, eat that dinner roll.