By Elizabeth Quigley, MS, RD, CDE
DHAC Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator
Lately there has been a huge explosion of gluten free (GF) products available in the supermarkets. It seems it has become quite popular for people to go “gluten free”. But is this necessary or effective?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. The only people who need to follow a GF diet are those who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. It is NOT to be followed as a weight loss tool. In fact, many GF commercial products are high in fat and calories, so read the label. A wheat allergy is not the same as celiac. A person who is allergic to wheat can have other sources of grains.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the intestinal tract, leading to malabsorption of vital nutrients including iron, folate, calcium and vitamin D. Currently1% or 1/133 people have been diagnosed with celiac. However, there are many others with the disease without knowing it. Symptoms vary, but may include: chronic diarrhea or constipation, foul smelling stools, abdominal pain, gas, vomiting and weakness. Some people have no symptoms at all.
The only way to diagnose celiac is with a biopsy of the small intestine. If you suspect that you may have celiac, it is very important to not eliminate the gluten from your diet before having the biopsy. Otherwise, the biopsy could be negative. Gluten sensitivity is a condition with similar symptoms as celiac, however they test negative for antibodies. The only treatment for celiac is strict avoidance of gluten. Even if the symptoms improve, it is essential to stay on the diet or there will be further damage to the intestines.
Product labeling has improved over recent years, and now products are clearly marked “gluten free”. A GF diet can still be a healthy one if the person includes the many naturally gluten free foods in their daily intake such as fruits/vegetables, lean meats, dairy and acceptable grains(rice, corn quinoa, buckwheat, etc. You can supplement this with GF products available for cereals, breads, pastas, etc.
For further information about celiac disease, check out www.celiac.org. A registered dietitian can help with the GF diet.