Is Gluten Free The Way To Be?
First it was fat free, then it was carb free, now it’s gluten free. Is gluten free just the latest gimmick or really an important health and nutrition issue? The answer is both.
For the one out of a hundred people in the U.S. that have celiac disease, gluten free foods are literally a life saver. Celiac disease is a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food. Those with celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, even in minuet amounts. Gluten is a protein that is found in thousands of foods made with wheat, rye and barely as well as everyday products such as medicines, vitamins and lip balm. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, bone or joint pain, depression or anxiety, missed menstrual periods and left untreated can cause serious long term consequences. Celiac disease must be diagnosed by a physician, so make an appointment if you are experiencing these symptoms.
If diagnosed with celiac disease you must eliminate gluten form your diet. Most pastas, cereals and grain products are made with wheat, wheat flour, rye and barely and should therefore be avoided. Fortunately “gluten free” products made from potato, rice, soy, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat or bean flours are increasingly available, making the gluten free diet more palatable and easier to follow. Since “plain” meat, fish, rice, fruits and vegetables do not contain gluten they can be safely eaten. Oats can be eaten in small amounts as long they are not contaminated with wheat gluten during processing. Some people, while not diagnosed with celiac disease, have similar symptoms and may benefit from limiting their exposure to gluten.
The gimmick side of gluten free comes from the belief that foods with gluten are bad, and if it is “gluten free” it must be healthy. First of all, whole grain products made from wheat, barley and rye can make a very positive contribution to a healthy diet and there is no reason to exclude them unless you have celiac disease or you experience the symptoms described above when consuming them. Secondly, there are many gluten free products that are not healthy or nutritious. Food companies are now making gluten free versions of cakes, cookies, muffins, doughnuts, brownies and other junk foods. While it is not bad for someone with celiac disease to enjoy an occasional gluten free treat, a gluten free cookie or brownie is still a cookie or a brownie. If because of the “halo” effect, you give yourself the permission to eat more gluten free snacks than you would eat the regular version of those snack, gluten free could be part of the problem not the solution.
For more information on celiac disease, contact the Celiac Disease Foundation at www.celiac.org. For information on digestive disorders in general, visit the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse website. at www.digestive.niddk.nih.gov.