Gluten Free Diets
Celiac Disease and the Benefits of Going Gluten-Free
Celiac disease is a condition where there is intolerance to gluten, a bowel-irritating protein. This genetic disorder affects 1 out of 133 Americans, mostly those of European descent. Those with this condition have damage to the villi in portions of their intestines due to specific food-grain antigens (toxic amino acid sequences). These antigens are found in wheat, barley, and rye. Symptoms of celiac disease include weight loss, diarrhea, malnutrition, and stomach pain.
Risk of the Gluten-Free Diet
The gluten-free diet excludes the protein gluten. There are certain risks that come with this dietary program. Those who follow a gluten-free diet can develop low levels of necessary minerals and vitamins. These include:
With the gluten free diet, there are starches that are safe and starches to avoid. People with celiac disease avoid oats, but many health professionals believe that pure, uncontaminated oats can be well-tolerated for people with this condition. However, it is best to avoid wheat-based products, such as einkorn, emmer, kamut, and spelt, as well as barley, rye, and triticale (a cross between rye and wheat). Good starches include corn, buckwheat, arrowroot, rucca, nut flour, wild rice, and arrowroot.
Sneaky Sources of Gluten
Wheat and wheat products are used as stabilizers, thickeners, and texture enhancers in many foods that are otherwise wheat-free. These foods include salad dressings, gravies, and sauces. Other sneaky sources include potato chips, bouillon cubes, rice mixes, hard candy, licorice, jelly beans, hot dogs, sausage, cold cuts, and communion wafers.
Certain mouthwashes and medications also have gluten. Look for the words "stabilizer" or "starch" on the ingredients list. Consult with your doctor and pharmacist before taking any medicated products.
Study Shows that People without Celiac Disease Benefit from Gluten-Free Diet
A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology compared people who are on a "self-treated gluten-free diet" with those who are diagnosed with celiac disease. Nearly all participants of the study responded to the gluten-free diet. Those without celiac disease had a 94% improvement, compared with 98% for those with the condition. When not following the gluten-free diet, people without celiac disease had more bloating, diarrhea, flatulence, itchy skin, and constipation. The researchers concluded that "non-celiac gluten sensitivity" could play a role in the benefits of this diet.
The Reality of the Gluten Free Diet
There are two main reasons why people who do not have celiac disease choose the gluten-free diet: weight loss and increased energy. In the beginning, many dieters lose weight on this diet. This occurs from replacing wheat flour and potato starch with high-fiber grains. Also most gluten-free foods are low in fats and calories. The increased energy is the result of added fruits and vegetables. When someone eats a well-balanced diet, they tend to have more energy. The reality is that you lose weight because of cutting out excessive carbohydrates, not gluten. Also, energy comes from smarter food choices, not the elimination of gluten.
In 2007, dietary researchers Lee and associates studied the economics of the gluten-free diet. They developed a market basket of gluten-free products and evaluated prices from upscale grocery stores, general grocery stores, internet-based grocery sites, and health food stores. They found that gluten-free products were more expensive than wheat-based counterparts, with pasta and bread being twice as expensive. Also, cost was related to shopping venue rather than geographic location. The investigators concluded that gluten-free foods have poor availability and are more expensive than their counterparts.
- Dairy products
Food Products to Avoid
- Durum flour
- Granhan flour
Foods that Contain Gluten
- French fries
- Imitation meat or seafood
- Processed luncheon meats
- Salad dressings
- Vegetables in sauce
Cross contamination occurs when gluten-free foods come in contact with gluten-containing foods. This happens during the manufacturing process. Check labels to see if they have a "may contain" statement regarding gluten. Also, at home, prepare foods using separate surfaces and utensils to avoid cross contamination.Sources
EatingWell.com (2013). Gluten Free Diet Guidelines. Retrieved from:
Lee AR et al. (2007). Economic burden of a gluten-free diet. Journal of Human Nutrition Diet, 20(5): 423 – 430.
Mayo Clinic (2013). Gluten-free diet: What's allowed, what's not. Retrieved from: