So what’s the big deal about “gluten-free”?
We all know that gluten-free foods are HOT right now – even some celebrities have been quoted as supporters of this seemingly trendy diet. However, it is important to realize why some people MUST avoid gluten for their health’s sake. To learn more, read on to see my top 5 gluten-related “frequently asked questions”, along with answers.
1. What is gluten?
Gluten is the term used to describe a type of protein found in wheat, barley and rye grains. In baked goods, gluten is the protein that gives rise and texture to many of our favorite breads, muffins and cakes. It is also found in many other foods like crackers, cereals, seasoning mixes, batters and even beer.
2. Why are some people intolerant of gluten?
In general, gluten is one of the toughest proteins for humans to digest. But in most healthy adults the body does not react negatively to gluten. However there are people who are considered to be “gluten intolerant” and there are some people who have celiac disease, and in both cases neither group should eat gluten-containing foods.
3. What is gluten intolerance?
It is possible to be gluten intolerant but not have celiac disease. Many people with this condition may have intestinal symptoms such as gas, bloating and diarrhea when eating
a diet that contains gluten. When they remove gluten from their diet, the symptoms go away. However, it is important that people with these symptoms seek medical attention and receive proper testing to determine the true cause of symptoms BEFORE trying a gluten free diet.
4. What is celiac disease?
Put simply, celiac disease is a disease that is passed through family genes that causes the body to attack itself when foods containing gluten are eaten. This attack happens mostly in the small intestine. If left untreated, this can lead to malabsorption, severe nutrient deficiencies and other complications.
5. How do you know if you have celiac disease?
Symptoms of celiac disease may include gas, bloating, diarrhea and unintentional weight loss, but may also include depression, infertility or a skin rash known as dermatitis herpetiformis. And surprisingly, some people with the disease do not experience symptoms until later in life. Even without symptoms, people with medically diagnosed celiac disease must follow a gluten free diet to prevent further health consequences.
In order to be diagnosed with true celiac disease you must continue to eat foods containing gluten and you must be tested by a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in intestinal health. Several blood tests may be performed to test for markers of the disease but the “gold standard” test is an intestinal biopsy, where a small piece of tissue is taken from the small intestine and examined for damage. This testing process should be very thorough and always performed by a board-certified physician for the most reliable results.
May is National Celiac Awareness Month. For more information on celiac disease, check out www.celiac.nih.gov.