So what is all the fuss about gluten…and why would anyone want to “go gluten free?” I work with many people who ask me that question as they try to understand what exactly constitutes a gluten free diet. Many people now are wondering if they might want to consider eliminating gluten from their diet, but the messages in the public’s eye are often confusing leaving us unsure.
Fortunately, there is a lot of information now about the benefits of a gluten free diet. In addition, the availability of real, whole foods that we can eat and not feel deprived is very encouraging. I emphasize real whole foods because there is a ton of processed gluten free foods out there that are not healthy so buyer beware. It is much better to avoid those processed products as it is challenging to truly know whether they contain gluten or not and in many cases they offer little to no nutritional value.
The question about who should consider removing gluten from their diet is not one that can be easily answered without knowing where people are on the spectrum of gluten sensitivity. There is a difference between wanting to eliminate gluten for improved energy and being gluten intolerant or having Celiac Disease. The spectrum regarding gluten below can help to show how many types of people are benefitting from removing gluten from their diets and some of the reasons they have chosen to do so:
For people electing to eliminate gluten they often find that they have better energy, their thinking is clearer as is their attention. They also find the added benefit of weight loss if they are looking to shed pounds. These folks have the option of “choosing” to eliminate gluten. For others who suffer from the health risks related to consuming gluten it is not a choice. For people on the higher end of the scale, who are allergic or intolerant it is not an option. These individuals often can develop the most severe gluten issues such as Celiac Disease. Now recognized as a major health issue, people with Celiac Disease struggle with diet and health related issues exacerbated by gluten.
Celiac Disease is an immune system reaction to gluten which affects about 1 in 140 people in the United States alone. It is a digestive disease that damages the lining of the small intestines (the villi) where much of our nutrients are absorbed into the body causing one to not be able to absorb needed nutrients. Celiac is a complicated disease as it not only a digestive disorder it is also an autoimmune disorder. It is genetic and so the likelihood you will have it increases dramatically if a family member is diagnosed with it or if there is a family history of autoimmune disease. For people in this situation it is important to know whether you have the disease and to take action to eliminate all gluten from your diet immediately. I advise people with symptoms related to gluten sensitivity to ask their doctor about how to get tested make sure, and to eliminate gluten as a precaution while they await test results. A typical course of testing may involve an endoscopy but there are many screening blood tests for celiac disease as well. The most sensitive and commonly used, whether symptoms are present or not, is the tTG-IgA test. Tissue Transglutaminase Antibodies (tTG-IgA) – The tTG-IgA test will be positive in about 98% of patients with celiac disease who are on a gluten- containing diet.
Common symptoms related to Celiac Disease are unexplained iron-deficiency anemia, fatigue, bone or joint pain, arthritis, bone loss or osteoporosis, depression or anxiety, tingling numbness in the hands and feet, seizures, missed menstrual periods, infertility or recurrent miscarriage, canker sores inside the mouth, an itchy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis to name a few. Symptoms vary with each case making it challenging to identify. If you experience these symptoms and are not sure why speak with you doctor about whether you should be screened.
For those people in the optional low risk category who like to bake there are some good alternatives to regular flours on the market now so fear not. I love to bake and have found several good quality ingredients that are consistently certified GF.
A favorite recipe of mine now available on my website is a bread made with brown rice flour, millet, quinoa and flax meal and it is super simple, http://leanne-yinger.healthcoach.integrativenutrition.com/recipes. I have also added some good resources to determine if you want to seek medical support to address your gluten related issues.
http://www.gluten.net offers information and recipes
Gluten Free Diet: A Comprehensive Guide by Shelley Case – http://www.glutenfreediet.ca
The Gluten Free Nutrition Guide by Tricia Thompson – http://www.glutenfreedietician.com/
Real Life with Celiac Disease by Melinda Dennis – http://www.deletethewheat.com
Hope you found this helpful. If it is sunny outside where you live get out in it for at least 30 minutes to absorb some that that vitamin D we all need for our immune systems function.