Is Going Gluten-Free Right For You?

Visit any gym, juice bar, natural foods market, or anywhere that the healthy-minded convene and you’re likely to hear more than one person volunteering the fact that they’ve gone gluten-free. One out of four households include someone following a gluten-free diet—contributing to the $10.5 billion gluten-free food and beverage industry. While this ideology is fast becoming a trend, it’s important to note that intolerance for gluten is often the result of someone being diagnosed with celiac disease and has very real medical consequences if the person with the condition doesn’t adapt his or her diet accordingly.

Even though there are people who have “gone” gluten-free without receiving a medical diagnosis to warrant it, celiac disease is a fairly common autoimmune disorder that can occur at any time during someone’s life. There is no consistent set of symptoms, but the disease is treatable with appropriate dietary changes. In other words, knowing what to eat and (perhaps even more important) what not to eat.

Going Gluten-Free “Just Because”

While some who haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease attest to loving their “gluten-free lifestyle” are surfing a trend, others, like those who suffer regularly from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), claim that omitting gluten from their diet helps them to feel better.

If you think you might actually be sensitive to gluten, get tested for celiac disease before you remove gluten from your diet (since you need to have gluten in your system in order for the test to provide accurate results).

If the test confirms you have celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is essential.

Shop With Ease

Gone are the days when shopping for gluten-free foods required special orders or certain, out-of-the-way stores. Thanks to increased awareness, there are several celiac-safe products available at most supermarkets.

Bonus tip: Since many popular grains contain gluten, I suggest you try quinoa, millet, amaranth and wild rice. You’ll also want to include plenty of vegetables and fruits to make sure you get a wide variety of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.

What Celiac Diagnosis Might Mean for You

Although eating gluten-free is the way to go for those diagnosed with celiac disease, it doesn’t mean you’ll be forever looking for labels that declare foods free from gluten. In fact, there are some potential new therapies on the horizon.

Immunotherapy is one of the most promising treatments being investigated today. This therapy involves people with celiac disease being exposed to small amounts of gluten via injections under the skin. The thinking is that with repeated injections, immune systems will gradually build up a tolerance to the gluten protein fragments and then become desensitized and no longer react when gluten is consumed.

Immunotherapy is still in the early stages of testing, so there’s no real consensus on when it might be available to the public. But the fact that this kind of research is being conducted certainly offers hope to those suffering from celiac disease.

In fact, speak with your physician and request occasional updates on various areas being researched.

By Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, CDN, Health and Nutrition Expert for NBC’s Today Show and founder of Nourish SnacksJoy’s latest book is From Junk Food to Joy Food.  

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