Eating gluten free was originally developed as a treatment for celiac disease – an autoimmune condition that affects 1% of the population and is caused by intolerance to gluten, a substance found in wheat, barley and rye.
Celiac disease triggers a false response in the immune system, causing inflammation of the small intestine and resulting in the inability to absorb nutrients which leads to severe vitamin deficiency and malnutrition.
The cause is unknown but people who have diabetes, dysfunctional thyroid, colitis and Down syndrome are diagnosed with celiac disease more often. There may also be a genetic link but the studies done to date have proven inconclusive.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease
- Diarrhea and/or constipation
- Abdominal cramps, bloating and gas
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Fibromyalgia (muscle pain)
- Fatigue, dizziness, lack of balance
- Tingling and/or numbness
- Mood swings
If you think you may suffer from gluten intolerance, talk to your doctor about a blood and bowel test to confirm. If you are diagnosed with celiac disease, removing gluten is crucial. There is no cure for celiac disease but the condition can be managed with proper diet.
Eating Naturally Gluten-Free Foods
- Unprocessed legumes, seeds and nuts
- Fresh eggs
- Un-battered or marinated fresh meats, fish and poultry
- Fruits and vegetables
- Many dairy products
- Flax, rice and corn products
Products You Should Avoid
- Wheat and wheat by-products such as bulgur
- Barley and malt products such as malt vinegar and malt flavoring
- Rye, farina, semolina and graham flour
- Breads, cake, pie, cookies, crackers, matzo and candy
- Imitation meat or seafood, lunch meat and self-basting turkey
- Cereals, croutons, pasta
- Gravy, sauces, salad dressing, marinades and soup mixes
There is a lot of press about “eating gluten free” these days and it seems everyone is professing how wonderful the gluten-free diet is. People report that they have more energy, less sickness and weight loss from actors and athletes. Is cutting gluten out of your diet the answer?
What About Everyone Else?
Before you cut an entire food group out of your diet – follow the research. Gluten is found in a food group that provides a large portion of your energy, feeds your brain and contains the fiber you require for digestive health and nutrient absorption.
An article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine calls it nothing more than hype. Celiac disease researchers Antonio Di Sabatino, MD and Gino Roberto Corazza, MD, state, “Claims about [ eating gluten-free ] seem to increase daily, with no adequate scientific support to back them up…gluten has become the new diet villain.”
Stefano Guandalini, MD, warns that a eating gluten free diet is dangerously low in fiber and too high in fat. He said, “Someone who needs to be on a gluten-free diet and is closely monitored can benefit tremendously from it. But for everyone else, embracing this diet makes no sense.”
Dr. Guandalini is the medical director for the Celiac Disease Center at the University of Chicago.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Diets high in fiber are excellent for digestion and total body health. However, you could be eating too much of certain products that contain gluten and are overwhelming your system. You may not need to cut gluten out of your diet completely, but just cut back.
Dr. Peter Bongiorno explained, “Any food you eat constantly and continuously, your body starts to say ‘no more’ and create(s) an inflammatory reaction. If you’re looking at your diet and eating gluten two or three times a day, then it’s probably worth getting rid of it for a little while.”
Until there is hard evidence that removing gluten (for those without celiac disease) is beneficial to your health, you may be creating more problems than you’re solving. Eating in moderation – not eating gluten free – seems to be the general consensus from the scientific community.