Is a Gluten Free Diet Right for You?

Lisa Nelson, RD, LN Health Pro
  • The number of gluten free products available on grocery store shelves has drastically increased. Do you know if a gluten free diet is right for you? Here's a little background to help you better understand the reason behind producing gluten free foods.

     

    As many as one in 133 adults in the US suffers gluten intolerance. Gluten intolerance may also be referred to as nontropical sprue or celiac disease and is a condition that is often misdiagnosed. As an FYI, you can have a gluten sensitivity and not be diagnosed with celiac disease.


    What is gluten?

     

    Gluten is a type of protein commonly found in wheat, rye, and barley. Additional ingredients in foods made from these grains include farina, graham flour, semolina, durum wheat, bulgur, Kamut, kasha, matzo meal, spelt, and triticale. Gluten is therefore found in most types of cereals, many types of bread, tortillas, crackers, pastas, sauces, gravies, and cookies.

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    Not all foods from the grain family contain gluten, such as wild rice, corn, buckwheat, amaranth, millet, oats, quinoa, teff, soybeans, and sunflower seeds.

     

    What is gluten intolerance?


    Gluten intolerance is a digestive condition triggered when you eat a food containing gluten. The gluten initiates an immune reaction within the small intestine leading to damage to the villi on the surface of the small intestine. This results in a decreased ability to absorb nutrients from foods.


    What are signs of gluten intolerance?

     

    Gluten intolerance is difficult to diagnose because the signs vary widely between individuals. Symptoms may include diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating. Symptoms of gluten intolerance are frequently also symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, gastric ulcers, and other conditions.


    What can I eat if I have a gluten intolerance?

     

    You would follow a gluten free diet rich in fresh meats, fish, and poultry, fruits, vegetables, most dairy products, rice, and potatoes. You would also utilize gluten-free flours such as rice, soy, potato, and corn flour.

     

    What should I avoid when I have a gluten intolerance?

     

    Gluten can be found in numerous food products. You must become a savvy shopper. Breads, cereals, pasta, crackers, cakes, cookies, gravies, and sauces may all contain gluten. Gluten may also be used in food additives like malt flavorings and modified food starches. You must read food labels and become familiar with terms that indicate the presence of gluten.

     

    How do I shop for gluten free foods?

     

    Gluten free products can be found fairly easily now. Check your local grocery stores and even on-line options. You are even able to purchase gluten free brownies, beer, and bread.

     

    Are there any drawbacks to a gluten free diet?

     

    Yes, gluten free foods can be expensive. You also risk nutrient deficiencies when following a gluten free diet and potential weight gain because these foods tend to be higher in fat and calories. Fat and sugar are often added by manufacturers to gluten free foods to make them more appealing.


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    Should I try a gluten free diet?

     

    If you live with gastrointestinal issues that you haven't been able to resolve it wouldn't hurt to complete a "trial and error" with a gluten free diet. If you have gluten intolerance your symptoms will go away fairly quickly (usually within 2 weeks or less). If you intend to follow a gluten free diet long term I recommend discussing with your physician.

     

    Be sure to sign up for one of the free e-course How to Lower Cholesterol in 8 Simple Steps or 7 Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure provided by dietitian Lisa Nelson.

     

Published On: August 28, 2010