Lately the gluten free diet has been in the news. There are many people following this diet for a variety of reasons. For those who are curious as to what exactly a gluten free diet is, I thought I
would write a post giving a bit of background and maybe some glimpses into the future.
First, a bit of a definition of what gluten IS: gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Often oats can be CONTAMINATED with wheat, so many celiacs stay away from it. There are gluten-free [quality tested]oats on the market, but some celiacs cannot tolerate those oats either. It is this protein that makes regular breads soft and doughy. This is often times why gluten free items are so dense.
The one group that ABSOLUTELY has to eat gluten free are those with celiac disease. Celiac disease is not an allergy- rather it is an autoimmune disease. [There is a wheat allergy, which also requires an absolute swearing off of wheat, but not necessarily rye and barley.] This disease causes the body to attack itself, specifically the small villi that line the intestine. Because these villi are the primary receptors that process the nutrients from your food, celiac patients experience a whole host of symptoms. As I explain to others, your body works together as a machine- when something is missing or off, it affects the rest of your body. There are many symptoms, but some of the common one are gastrotintestinal issues, anemia [which leads to fatigue], headaches, infertility, and even hair loss. University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center says that 1 in 133 people in the Unites States has celiac disease, although 97 percent do not know it. Celiac disease is a genetic disorder, so it is very important to have all family members tested if you are celiac.
The next group that should stay away from gluten is those who are gluten sensitive. This is harder to diagnose, and many researchers are working on away to pinpoint a way to diagnose it. [There is no genetic or blood test at this time like there is with Celiac disease.] The main way to determine if this is best for you is to work with a doctor and do a gluten challenge, which involves removing gluten COMPLETELY from your diet for a period, then reintroducing it to see if symptoms recur. Again, I am not a doctor or nurse, so this is why it is important to talk to your doctor about this before making any dietary changes. [Actually, if you have not been tested for celiac disease first, do NOT change your diet, because to be tested for CD they test for the antibodies in your blood that are reacting to the gluten, so it is important not to change your diet.]
There is some evidence, both anecdotal and research driven, that the gluten free diet can benefit other disorders. One autoimmune disorder [like celiac disease] is a gateway to other autoimmune disorders. There is some suggestion that a gluten free diet is beneficial for those with Sjoegren's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Lupus- all those PLEASE note. It is mentioned that Celiac Disease can be linked to these diseases, and that going on a gluten free diet helps with the celiac disease, which in turn makes the patient feel better. In my humble opinion, I think anyone with an autoimmune disease should be tested for celiac disease. It's a very simple blood test.
There is also anecdotal evidence that those suffering with Autism benefit from a gluten-free casein-free diet. [Casein is the protein in dairy products- not to be confused with lactose, which is the sugar found in dairy.] I've read several articles from parents who say that their children have a complete turn around. Last I knew there was some controversy, as not everyone agrees about this. All I know is this- I have a strong suspicion that many of the illnesses that we are experiencing are due to the food that we are eating- either because we have allergies or because of pesticides and genetically modified foods Nutrition is SO very important.
There is also a book out there called The Wheat Belly Diet, in which a doctor believes that gluten is the mastermind behind the obesity epidemic that we have. As a celiac, I've had to ponder some of this. Many celiacs at first are angry to be honest, because people following a gluten free diet to lose weight don't have the major health consequences if they accidentally ingest it. It makes it harder for restaurants to understand what is really going on, as well as manufacturers of gluten free foods Cross contamination is a tricky and important issue. My guess is that many of these people may be gluten-sensitive.
Above all, there are a few very important things for those following a gluten free diet to remember.
1) Read all labels carefully. Gluten sneaks into items in many ways. If at all possible, frequently purchase items that specifically say gluten free on them, and even better support companies that support the Celiac Sprue Association or other celiac organizations.
2) Nutrition is SO very important. Make sure you eat whole grains as much as possible, eat lots of fruits and vegetables [so you can get your fiber], drink your water, and get your calcium, either from dairy, greens, or supplements. [Some people say celiacs should stay away from dairy as well - personally I'm not sold on that yet.]
3) Back to the whole grains- wheat, rye and barley and loaded with whole grains, i.e, endosperm and bran, where your B vitamins are located. These B vitamins are INCREDIBLY important- they regulate your metabollism, your sleep, controls your blood sugar, and makes your white blood cells to build your immune system. This is where the issue comes in- many gluten free grains are heavily processed and are short in whole grains, and are not fortified like regular grains, cereals, and pastas. If you are choosing to eat gluten free- YOU must make sure to get your B vitamins from grains that are gluten free. Examples are amaranth, millet, teff, buckwheat [ which is actually related to rhubarb], and quinoa. Oh yeah, and brown rice.
So this was an incredibly long post, I know. But hopefully it was helpful. In general, if you have any auto-immune disease, including Type 1 diabetes, you should be tested for celiac disease. If you think you may be gluten-sensitive, please consult with a doctor first. And if you choose to eat gluten-free, eating nutritiously is highly important. I even suggest meeting with a dietician.
Labels: Living Gluten Free