Should I be eating gluten-free?

May is Celiac Awareness Month so we’re sharing some gluten-free tips and information.

What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten, a protein that is found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye, leads to damage of the small intestine. Symptoms vary between patients, but common symptoms include abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, “foggy mind” depression and fatigue. Some people might have the symptoms of celiac disease after eating gluten-containing products, but yet do not test positive for celiac disease, after a biopsy of the small intestine. This condition is termed non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) or non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS). Currently, the only treatment for celiac disease, NCGS, and NCGS is adherence to a gluten-free diet to help manage the symptoms.

More on the gluten-free diet:
Since gluten is a protein found in grains, the essence of a gluten-free diet is to strictly avoid these grains. Gluten is commonly found in products containing wheat, barley, rye, triticale, and some oats due to the cross-contamination. All varieties of wheat and wheat flours contain gluten and therefore should be avoided. When reading a nutrition label avoid any products that contain the wheat ingredient durum, einkorn, emmer, kamut, spelt, enriched flour, farina, graham flour, self-rising flour, phosphate flour, or semolina.

Hidden gluten:
Wheat can also be a common ingredient in many processed products as a thickening or binding agent, for flavoring, or for coloring. Some commonly purchased items that might not obviously contain gluten but still do include beer, breads, cakes, malt, matzo, salad dressings, seasoned rice mixes, and soup mixes. To ensure that a product does not contain gluten look for a label indicating, gluten-free or made with corn, soy, rice, or other gluten-free grains. Depending on the severity of symptoms, it might be beneficial to look for products produced in a gluten-free environment to avoid cross-contamination.

So what can I eat?
Although initially the list of restricted gluten-containing items may seem daunting, there are many other naturally gluten-free foods you can still enjoy! Fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, nuts, non-processed meats, poultry and most dairy products are all gluten-free! In addition grains that are naturally gluten-free include buckwheat, cornmeal, quinoa, rice, and flours made from nuts, beans or seeds such as almond flour, chickpea flour and flax flour.

Should I go gluten-free?
One of the hot topics current in nutrition is gluten and gluten-free diets due to their potential to help with weight loss and improve overall health and energy. However, there is limited evidence about the health benefits for the overall population and therefore not usually recommended. There is substantial evidence that the use of a gluten-free diet to control symptoms of those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or wheat sensitivity. With that being said, food intolerances are on the rise. If you suffer from chronic bloating, low energy and fatigue, especially after eating a carb-heavy dish, you may have a gluten/wheat sensitivity. With the help of your dietitian, you can trial-eliminate wheat from your diet for 4 weeks. Once you reintroduce, keep a strict food and symptom log to help see if there is a returning trend in your symptoms. If you overall feel the same, then you likely don’t have a sensitivity and can keep wheat back in your diet.

Easy Gluten-Free Substitutes:
Grains are a one of five the food groups and therefore are a commonly eaten and enjoyed staple. However, for a person with celiac disease, grains become a very tricky part of the diet. Luckily, there are numerous grains and starch-containing foods which are naturally gluten-free including rice, cassava, corn, potato, quinoa, millet, amaranth, and yucca. There are also a number of other grain substitutes which are becoming more popular and are naturally gluten-free including spaghetti squash and zucchini noodles. For pasta enthusiasts, we love Banza chickpea pasta and other pastas made from beans.


Nick VanMeter