Gluten Free: To Be or Not To Be

A few years ago, I was sitting with friends at a restaurant, and I heard them ask the waiter “Does that come with a gluten-free option?”  And so began the unfolding story of more of my friends moving toward the gluten-free lifestyle.

Over the last couple years, the gluten-free industry has raked in over $10 billion dollars per year on gluten-free food products.  Although a common misconception is that a gluten-free diet will promote weight loss, a gluten-free diet does have the potential to help people feel better.

I often try to remember what exactly it means for people when they say they have gluten intolerance.  Those who have complete gluten intolerance have Celiac disease.  According to the National Institute of Health, people with celiac disease amounts to 1 in 133 Americans which totals more than 2 million Americans.  More specifically, individuals with celiac disease cannot tolerate certain proteins found in grains including wheat, barley, and rye, which can collectively be referred to as gluten.

When someone who has celiacs consume gluten, their body has an allergic reaction causing the inside lining of the small intestine to become inflamed.  It also interferes with the digestion and absorption of nutrients in the food this leads to vitamin and mineral deficiency, and other short-term health problems that can include fatigue, constipation, depression, and irritability to name a few. In the long term, health issues can include infertility, osteoporosis and liver and thyroid diseases.

Now on to what it means for someone who doesn’t have celiacs, but wishes to partake in a gluten-free lifestyle. For one, the top foods you would avoid would be bread, pasta, baked goods, and cereals. Unsuspectedly, it can also be found in soups, sauces, marinades and even in makeup products such as lipstick.  Because this is the case, it becomes a necessity to read label food products when grocery shopping.

Those who suffer from mild gluten intolerance have discomfort in their gastrointestinal system, but unlike celiacs, do not have the same autoimmune response.  Even still, according to the author of The Gluten-FreeRD blog, Rachel Begun, almost 18 million Americans struggle with gluten sensitivity.

Now, while gluten may be one of the culprits for these individuals, research shows it’s probably not the only one.  Other culprits could include more components of the wheat, as well as specific fruit and vegetables, alcohol and dairy could also be triggering symptoms of discomfort in the stomach.

If you are unsure if you are gluten sensitive or have celiacs, a medical specialist can help you find out a better plan for your nutritional needs.