Gluten Free: Hype or Help?

Just because Gwyneth Paltrow is doing it, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you.  You’ve heard of the gluten-free diet, maybe even seen your local store suddenly flooded with new gluten-free products-but what IS gluten and why do we want it out of our food?

Gluten is a protein found in rye, wheat, and barley (and some oats are highly contaminated).  It helps give bread structure.  Straight to the point–> for the majority of people, this protein is not a big deal and no, consuming a GF diet will not help you lose weight.  The GF oreo cookies contain no fewer calories!

For a small amount of the population though, gluten can be very harmful.  People with celiac disease have an immune response to the protein, which means their gut recognizes gluten as a foreign invader and launches a full on attack damaging the villi that absorb nutrients in the intestine.

If untreated with a gluten-free diet, this can lead to deficiencies of many nutrients.  There are also people who have a ‘gluten intolerance’ where they have very uncomfortable GI symptoms but their immune system is not involved.  These people also benefit from a gluten free diet to alleviate their symptoms.

It is important to discuss with your doctor if you are experiencing any regular GI discomfort.  The University of Chicago estimates that only 1 in 4700 people with celiac disease have actually been diagnosed.  There are so many foods that contain gluten–from the obvious breads and pastas to the fillers in hot dogs and canned soups to condiments.

If you are found to have celiac or a gluten intolerance, contact a dietitian with experience in gluten-free counseling to ensure you don’t accidentally consume a gluten food and delay your recovery.  We can also help you figure out what you CAN eat to prevent deficiencies of certain nutrients typically found in the food you now have to avoid.

By Louise Goldberg, RD, CSP, LD, CNSC

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