Keeping a Gluten-Free Diet


Gluten, derived from the Latin word for "glue," is a protein found in grains, such as wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten produces a sticky substance that allows bread to rise and gives flour a sticky consistency when mixed with water. Although most people have no issues related to consuming gluten, some people suffer from gluten-related digestive issues. The body's inability to digest gluten protein ranges from mild sensitivity to severe intolerance.

The most severe reaction to gluten occurs in those suffering from celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder; those who have celiac disease must completely avoid consuming gluten because it triggers a mistaken immune reaction in the small intestine. Over time, these immune attacks damage the lining of the small intestine and cause severe intestinal problems. Celiac disease affects approximately 1% of the population, and a gluten-free diet is a lifelong necessity for those suffering from it.

Gluten sensitivity is also a good reason for a gluten-free diet. Although research is not yet conclusive, a gluten-free diet may help children on the autism spectrum improve their speech and social behavior. Gluten-free diets may also help relieve problematic digestive symptoms, such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and gas. Furthermore, a gluten-free diet often increases energy, aids in weight loss, and improves overall health.

Those following a gluten-free diet should avoid foods containing wheat, malt, brewer's yeast, barley, and rye. Even though oats do not contain gluten, they can increase abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea due to the fact that they are processed the same as wheat-based foods. Common foods to avoid while on a gluten-free diet include, but are not limited to, bread, pasta, cereal, cakes, pizza, pastries, cookies, sauces, beer, candy, crackers, flavored chips, pretzels, and roasted nuts.

Grocery stores usually stock many foods that are gluten free. Natural gluten-free foods include, but are not limited to, beef, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy (no additional flavoring), fruits, vegetables, rice, sorghum, corn, potatoes, vegetable oils, butter, herbs, spices, nuts, and seeds.

People following a gluten-free diet may suffer deficiencies in certain beneficial vitamins including iron, calcium, vitamin B12, zinc, folate, vitamin B, and many others. Due to the reduction in fiber, going gluten-free can also cause constipation. Foods that are gluten-free and high in fiber include broccoli, beans, lentils, brussel sprouts, and berries. Gluten-free foods tend to be more costly and can make social situations difficult. When dining out, plan ahead and choose a restaurant carefully.

A diagnosis of celiac disease is more difficult if the patient begins a gluten-free diet before testing is done. Blood tests and a biopsy from the small intestine are the most common tools used to diagnose celiac disease. People who believe they may be sensitive to gluten can try a gluten-free diet to see if problematic symptoms improve. After a few weeks, foods containing gluten can then be slowly reintroduced to determine if gluten sensitivity is present. If symptoms do not improve on a gluten-free diet, a health care professional should be consulted in order to determine a proper diagnosis. A dietician can assist with the specifics of a gluten-free diet.