by Ashley Giddens MS RD/LD
Q: With more and more gluten-free foods popping up on grocery store shelves, should I be eating gluten-free? Is a gluten-free diet healthier?
A: I agree that more and more options are gluten-free, which is a wonderful advancement for those with Celiac disease. Let me first tell you what exactly gluten is. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale. Oats may appear on some “gluten” lists because of possible contamination from gluten-containing grains during processing. These grains have been part of the human diet for thousands of years and are good sources of fiber, vitamins, and whole wheat products.
When one has Celiac disease, their body’s immune system reacts to gluten. The intestinal tract becomes inflamed, damaged and decreases absorption of nutrients such as proteins, fat, vitamins, and minerals. There are many symptoms that can occur, but common ones include: abdominal cramps, bloating, diarrhea or constipation (or both) and unexplained weight loss. Celiac disease requires testing in order to confirm that one is diagnosed with this. And yes, a gluten-free diet is necessary and lifelong treatment to avoid further damage to the body. Therefore, for someone who does not have Celiac disease, gluten is an important part of the diet and elimination of this does not exactly make one’s diet any healthier.
Elimination of gluten from the diet may direct focus on eating more fruits, vegetables, protein, and gluten-free high-fiber grains, which is beneficial for the body, but gluten itself is not harmful unless one has Celiac disease or a wheat allergy. For more information about Celiac disease, visit www.celiac.org.
For nutritional counseling, Norman Regional Health System offers the guidance of registered dietitians. Those interested can schedule an appointment for an assessment with a referral from their family physician.