May is National Celiac Awareness Month. Approximately one in 133 people have Celiac Disease, an autoimmune condition in which the ingestion of gluten causes damage to the lining of the small intestines. Such damage causes malabsorption of nutrients as well as gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Symptoms of Celiac disease aren’t always related to tummy troubles. Skin rashes, failure to thrive, slow bone growth, and autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s) are also signs that Celiac Disease may be present.
So, what is gluten? Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, and some oats (those that are processed in a facility with other grains). It’s found in the obvious foods like bread, cereal, crackers, cookies, tortillas, bagels, and any baked dessert. But did you know that gluten also hides in other, non-starchy foods, like soy sauce, frozen meals, and even beer?
Is there a cure for Celiac Disease? Actually there is. The treatment is a strict gluten-free diet. Even the smallest amounts of gluten can set the body’s digestive and immune system haywire.
Similar to Celiac Disease is Gluten Sensitivity. People who suffer from this have similar symptoms to Celiac Disease, yet test negative for the disease (blood test and/or small intestines biopsy). These people also benefit from a gluten-free diet, as gluten acts as a “trigger” to set off the immune system.
Gluten-Free: Is it for Me?
“Gluten-free” diets are all the rage these days. It seems like actors and athletes alike are turning to gluten-free diets to lose weight and improve performance. Tennis star Novac Djokovic posted numerous wins after giving up gluten and many actors claim a gluten-free diet helped them shed those unwanted pounds. Does this mean that going gluten-free is right for you? If so, what’s the right way to follow a gluten-free diet?
Besides the obvious gluten-containing foods – bread, cereal, crackers, tortillas, bagels, waffles, English muffins, pita bread, pancakes – gluten is often hidden in many more foods. Start reading labels and look for words that indicate gluten: gluten, wheat, malt, graham, spelt, kamut, rice syrup, yeast, HVP, TVP, HPP, MSG, modified food starch, soy sauce, maltodextrin, stabilizers, binders, fillers, natural flavors, vegetable gum, mono- & diglycerides. see a full list at www.celiac.com. At the store, avoid anything processed. If it’s not a whole food, it is more likely than not that it contains gluten.
Go to any supermarket and you will find whole sections devoted to gluten-free foods. There are gluten-free cereals, bread, crackers, waffles, and condiments. But does this mean you should start filling your basket up with these products? No. Most of these foods contain processed flours (potato, rice, soy – all gluten-free) and are very low in fiber. Quite often the gluten-free version of your favorite starchy foods are higher in fat, sugar, and calories and can contribute to weight gain. So what’s the answer?
Go Gluten-Free the Right Way
Eliminating gluten from your diet doesn’t have to be difficult. A diet that focuses on real, whole, clean foods, such as fruit, vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and whole gluten-free grain (brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, potato, sweet potato, corn, soy, GF oats) will provide you with all of the nutrition that you need and leave you feeling better than ever! Sure, you might have to say good-bye to pizza and cupcakes, but were they even good for you in the first place? (Even so, a once in a while indulgence of gluten free pizza or gluten free cupcakes is perfectly acceptable)