If you hadn’t already heard about or know someone who has gone gluten-free, now is a great time to learn. May is National Celiac Disease Awareness Month. So what exactly is gluten and should it be avoided? We have your answers.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye and the derivatives of these grains. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape and can be found in many items such as baked goods, pasta, soup, cereals, salad dressings, food coloring, beer, and even some medications.
The only people who need to follow a strict gluten-free diet are those diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity as it is the only treatment for them. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by eating gluten. When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, it interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food by damaging a part of the small intestine called villi.
Some common problems from undiagnosed celiac disease include weight loss, abdominal pain, anemia, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, gas, joint pain, nausea, or migraines. The only way to know if you have celiac disease is by getting an antibody blood test or genetic test from your doctor. If celiac disease is suspected from one of those, sometimes a small intestinal biopsy is needed to confirm the disease.
Many people believe that following a gluten-free diet will lead to weight loss however many products, although gluten-free, may still be high in calories, fat, and/or sugar. Restricting gluten over time, if done correctly, may lead individuals to eat more whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, and lean meats which could potentially lead to weight loss.
Following a very strict gluten-free diet can be expensive and hard to do. It takes a lot of planning and preparation. A gluten-free diet, by needing to restrict some of the grain or grain products containing gluten, could become deficient in certain vitamins/minerals including fiber, iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin D, and many of the B vitamins.
The bottom line on gluten-free diets? They are typically consumed by those unable to tolerate gluten in their bodies. There is no harm for others to follow a gluten-free diet but remember to consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and gluten-free whole-grain sources. Avoiding gluten will likely not directly aid in weight loss. A balanced diet and exercise are important components of a healthy lifestyle.