There are a lot of people that choose to eat a gluten-free diet… but for people with Celiac disease, it is ESSENTIAL. May is Celiac Awareness Month, which brings light to those with both Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Want to learn about Celiac disease, the gluten-free diet, and whether or not YOU should be eating gluten-free? Then keep reading!
First, what is Celiac disease?
It is a hereditary, autoimmune disorder that damages the lining of the small intestine. The body’s immune system over-reacts to gluten in food or drinks, and this reaction damages the VILLI – which are the tiny, hair-like projections that line the small intestine.
Why are villi so important? VILLI are responsible for absorbing ALL vitamins and minerals from the food you eat! So, without properly functioning villi, your body can’t get enough nutrients! Long-term attacks on the villi can lead to malnourishment and eventual bone density loss, neurological disease, and certain cancers. Symptoms include indigestion, bloating, abdominal pain, weight loss, diarrhea, and sometimes even no physical indicators.
BUT … what if Celiac disease is ruled out but you still experience symptoms? Then you may have a GLUTEN SENSITIVITY (basically all the same symptoms but none of the autoimmune attacks on the villi)!
What is the treatment for Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity? … following a GLUTEN-FREE DIET!
So, what is the gluten-free diet?
Let’s start by defining what gluten is. GLUTEN is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and cross-contaminated oats, unless the oats are noted as gluten-free (… Use the acronym BROW to remember where gluten is found). Gluten makes dough elastic and gives bread its chewy texture.
By following a diet without BROW, your intestine is allowed to heal, and you will not experience unwanted indigestion symptoms. Remember, these ingredients are found in many food products like flours, breads, pasta, cereals, cakes, cookies, etc. – so you must read the ingredients label!!
The good news? Fruit, vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy, and lean proteins are all NATURALLY gluten-free. Plus, there are many grains and plant foods you can safely eat. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has listed a few here: amaranth, buckwheat, corn, flax, legumes like beans, peas and lentils, millet, nuts, potatoes, quinoa, brown rice, seeds, soy, and tapioca. You may not be familiar with all of these grains and plant foods, but they are used in gluten-free products and you will see them in the ingredient list.
So, should YOU eat gluten-free?
Lots of people jump on this diet to drop weight and get healthy, however, it is not a guarantee. Just because something is gluten-free doesn’t mean it is healthier. Take cookies for example… some believe gluten-free cookies are guilt-free, however, a cookie is a cookie. Sometimes gluten-free products are actually worse than the original… in any food processing, when you remove something, something else needs to be added into the product. In this case, when gluten is removed, typically extra sugars, saturated or trans fats, or other preservatives are added!
SO, WHAT’S THE TAKE HOME MESSAGE? If you don’t have Celiac disease and don’t have a gluten sensitivity, it is NOT recommended to follow a gluten-free way of eating. Whole wheat bread, sprouted grain bread, and other whole wheat products are great additions to the diet, and they all have gluten in them. They are loaded with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and if your body can digest these food items… you should DEFINITELY include them. As always, it is best to fill your day with a variety of fruit, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat dairy, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains to stay healthy and happy.
Looking to build a healthier lifestyle with the guidance and support of a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist? Reach out to me at [email protected] today.