Is Gluten-Free For Me?

It is probably a safe bet that you have heard of gluten-free recipes and foods. But what is gluten exactly? There has been an explosion of gluten-free products onto the American food scape in recent years, and some people you know may rave about their benefits. As of January 2013, 30% of U.S. adults reported reducing or eliminating gluten in their diets, and while this trend has remained one of the hottest health topics in recent times, for many it is more than just a fad.

Gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley, is harmless for most people. However, for one out of every 133 people that eat gluten, Celiac disease is triggered. This immune response typically involves digestive symptoms such as bloating or cramps. The only treatment for Celiac disease is totally avoiding gluten in the diet, thus relieving symptoms. There are no advantages to avoiding gluten unless Celiac disease is present, or to avoiding wheat unless diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity by a doctor. The only way to know is by having a blood test to check for antibodies to gluten proteins, indicating Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

For those individuals, a strict avoidance of gluten-containing food will result in intestinal healing and relief of digestive symptoms. Though it may sound simple, gluten avoidance can be can be challenging. In addition to obvious sources such as breads, pastas, and breakfast cereals, gluten is often found in a variety of products to improve taste and texture (sauces, deli meats, etc.).

Thus, it is not easy avoiding gluten everyday! In addition to confusing gluten, whole grains and cereals are essential parts of a healthy, balanced diet because they provide energy, fiber, and many B vitamins. Therefore those questioning: “is gluten free for me?” are encouraged to seek a doctor’s opinion before adopting this eating pattern. Given the complexities of the gluten-free diet, a visit to your local registered dietitian is recommended.

References

1. Moore LR. “But we’re not hypochondriacs”: The changing shape of gluten-free dieting and the contested illness experience. Social Science & Medicine. 105 (2014) 76–83. ISSN 0277–9536.

2. N Raymond, J Heap, S Case. The Gluten-Free Diet: An Update for Health Professionals. Practical Gastroenterology. 2013. Series 1 67–92. Accessed April 19, 2014.

3. K Cadenhead, M Sweeny. Gluten elimination diets: Facts for patients on this food fad. BC Medical Journal. 2013; 55:3 161. Accessed April 19, 2014.

4. Miranda J., Lasa A., et. al. “Nutritional Differences Between a Gluten-free Diet and a Diet Containing Equivalent Products with Gluten”. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition. 2014. DOI 10.1007/s11130–014–0410–4

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