You see it on food labels and restaurant menus. Everywhere you look, it seems people are talking about going gluten-free. Even yogurt at the store, and popcorn at the ball-game is labeled gluten-free.
Maybe you’ve wondered, What’s the real deal with gluten?
After reading “Wheat Belly” by William Davis, MD, I cut a lot of gluten out of my diet.
I used to have a bagel or a piece of wheat bread with my eggs and veggies. I have swapped that out with Ezekiel bread and muffins. I don’t do bread for sandwiches either. I choose rice paper and make lunch wraps this way. But you will find me caving to a few slices of deep dish pizza on occasion. I’m human after all.
I did some research and came up with these commonly asked questions and their answers
Q. What is gluten?
A. It’s a mixture of proteins that occur naturally in certain grains, such as wheat, rye and barley.
When breads, cereals and pastas are made with these grains, gluten may help improve their taste and texture. That’s why it’s sometimes added to other foods too — from french fries to deli meats.
Q. So is there a downside?
A. For most of us, gluten is harmless. And cutting it out of our diet may make it harder to get the nutrients we need.
But some people can’t tolerate gluten. For those with celiac disease — up to 1 percent of the U.S. population — it’s a big concern. They need to avoid gluten entirely.
Q. What’s celiac disease?
A. It’s an autoimmune disorder — which means the body’s natural defenses target and damage healthy tissue.
For people with celiac disease, gluten triggers an attack within the lining of the small intestine. That may cause symptoms such as bloating, constipation and diarrhea, especially in children. And the effects aren’t limited to the digestive tract. Celiac disease may trigger fatigue, mood changes or other problems as well.
Even worse, if you have celiac disease, gluten prevents the body from absorbing certain nutrients properly. That can lead to anemia, osteoporosis and other conditions.
The only way to confirm celiac disease is with a blood test and a follow-up biopsy. So if you think you may have this disorder, talk with your doctor.
Q. Can gluten be harmful even if I don’t have celiac disease?
A. It can be — if you have a gluten sensitivity. That means you can tolerate small amounts of gluten. But large amounts may cause symptoms similar to those of celiac disease. The reaction is not usually as strong as in someone with the autoimmune disorder — but it may still be uncomfortable.
Q. What happens if my doctor says I need to go gluten-free?
A. Your doctor or a registered dietitian can help you create a gluten-free eating plan.* If you have celiac disease, you’ll need to follow it for life. But you’ll still be able to eat a variety of healthy foods.
Gluten-free staples include fruits, vegetables, beans, and unprocessed poultry and meat. Certain grains — such as brown rice, corn and quinoa — also are OK.
Q. What about weight loss? Doesn’t avoiding gluten help with that?
A. There are many gluten-free foods to choose from at the grocery store. But not all of them are healthy. So if you just avoid gluten, you won’t automatically drop pounds. You still have to make wise choices and practice portion control.
If you’re not sensitive to gluten, there’s no proven benefit to going gluten-free. So before you change your diet, talk with your doctor about the best way to get the nutrients you need.
I hope this post was helpful to you, and if you’re interested in learning more about reducing gluten, eating vegan or vegetarian, or just eating a cleaner, more balanced diet, contact me directly as I have an interest in all these areas.