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Is Gluten-Free the Way to Go?

My friend’s 20-something daughter, who had been suffering with stomach problems and skin rashes for 18 months, suddenly began to feel much better after beginning a gluten-free diet upon the suggestion of a “naturalist” physician (my friends term). Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, and in some people it causes serious health problems. Celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance, is a genetic disorder that affects at least 1 in 133 Americans. Symptoms of celiac disease can range from the classic features, such as diarrhea, weight loss, and malnutrition, to latent  symptoms such as isolated nutrient deficiencies but no gastrointestinal symptoms.

This disease has gained attention recently as many people are considering cutting back on gluten-laden foods for many reasons. Oprah Winfrey undertook a “21-day cleanse” this summer, eliminating meat, dairy, sugar, caffeine — and gluten. There are lots of gluten-free products available. In fact marketers estimate that 15% to 25% of consumers want gluten-free foods — though doctors estimate just 1% have celiac disease, says Cynthia Kupper, executive director of the non-profit Gluten Intolerance Group of North America. Is a gluten-free diet good for us, even if we don’t have symptoms of gluten intolerance?

Not necessarily. There is a spectrum of gluten intolerance and experts
now consider celiac disease on one end and, on the other, what’s been called a “no man’s land” of gluten-related gastrointestinal problems that may or may not overlap.People with celiac disease must commit to an absolutely gluten-free diet, as eating the protein can, over time, increase a person’s risk of osteoporosis, infertility, and certain cancers, in addition to worsening short-term symptoms. However, according to, recommendations for people with gluten sensitivity aren’t as clear-cut. Unlike celiac disease, gluten sensitivity hasn’t been linked to intestine damage and long-term health problems, so some experts say that people on the less severe end of the spectrum should feel comfortable eating as much gluten as they can handle without feeling sick. That does not necessarily mean they will be healthier, however. Even though celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Gwyneth Paltrow have reportedly cut out gluten to “detox,” there’s nothing inherently healthier about a gluten-free diet, according to an article in

“It can be very healthy, or it can be junk food,” says Dee Sandquist, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, who was quoted in the article. Some of the many gluten-free products on the market can be unhealthy because manufacturers add extra sugar and fat to simulate the texture and satisfying fluffiness that gluten imparts. A popular book entitledWheat Belly; Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find your Path Back to Health (also the name of a blog by the same author – William Davis), gives a thorough explanation of the symptoms and the results that can come from a gluten-free diet.It all comes down to choices. If you are trying to cut out gluten to see if you feel better, the Gluten Free Cooking School (a blog written for those who are gluten intolerant), explains that the best thing to do is to eat whole, unprocessed foods for at least a week to see if this relieves symptoms and makes you feel better. What does this really mean? On the Gluten-free Cooking School website the following foods were recommended for this kind of diet:

-Fruits and vegetables that do not come in a package.
-Meats that the butcher has processed in the store and that have not been puffed full of saline solution and seasonings.
-Grains that only have one ingredient listed on the packaging, e.g,. “Rice” and do not say “Contains Wheat” or “is processed in a facility that also processes wheat”.
-if you absolutely must eat processed food, the ones CLEARLY marked as gluten free.

When my friend’s daughter stopped eating foods with gluten, she felt better almost immediately. This is enough to convince her that she will be better off continuing to avoid those foods containing gluten. For others with not as severe symptoms, it may be enough to simply cut back on those kinds of foods. Regardless of whether we fall somewhere on the spectrum of gluten intolerant, the best kinds of foods are whole foods that have never gone through a “processing” procedure. For more information on gluten intolerance, see this Link.

What about you? Have you stopped or cut back on foods containing gluten? If so, why?

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