What’s the big deal behind gluten-free?

Gluten-free products are proliferating as people are trying to resolve digestive problems associated with consumption of wheat, rye or barley leading to abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea.

Others believe that gluten-free foods are healthier or will even help them lose body fat. They aren’t and they don’t.

People have only been eating wheat, rye and barley for about 10,000 years or so, when we first started to harvest and plant grain. Before agriculture, we roamed around and ate what we could find or capture. So, in the evolutionary development of our digestive tracts, gluten is a relatively new protein for our bodies to contend with.

Apparently, the sales of gluten-free products has tripled in the last few years, with many advocates stating that removing gluten from their diets has reduced their feelings of irritation, depression, lethargy, bloating and even feelings of being angry and upset.

Celiac is a serious disease that is largely undiagnosed and can cause damage in the small intestine when gluten is eaten. This disease can lead to malnutrition, diarrhea and malabsorption because of the immunological reaction that some people have to gluten in their food. The estimates are that only about 5 to 10 percent of those who have celiac disease are actually diagnosed.

The test is a simple blood test followed up with a biopsy on the lining of the small intestine to confirm inflammation. If you are someone who has a problem with abdominal bloating and pain, unintentional weight loss or diarrhea, then you should get checked out by your health care provider for celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

If you still like grains but want alternatives with no gluten protein in them, you might opt for grains such as quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat and corn (don’t forget you must get organic, non-GMO corn). The U.S. dietary guidelines advocate consumption of grains as part of a healthy complete diet. I think a lot of that has to do with keeping the grain growers in the money and not dietary requirements, as we seemed to get along pretty well for a couple million years without grains at all.

A study published in 2011 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that the symptoms of people with irritable bowel syndrome improved when gluten was eliminated from their diets. There is also a common allergy to wheat, especially noted in children, that causes an antibody reaction, although it is not elicited by the gluten in wheat.

People with celiac disease can eat all fresh fruits, veggies, beef, chicken, fish, lamb and pork, as well as dairy products, because they are all gluten-free. I recommend that if you eat these items, you go organic as much as possible because so much of our food is contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, GMO, hormones and antibiotics.

Those with celiac disease can also eat grains and flours such as rice, corn, soy, potato, tapioca, beans, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, flax and nuts. Oats can be tolerated as long as they are uncontaminated. Distilled alcohol such as hard liquor, wine and vinegars are also tolerated, but beer, ale, lager and malt vinegar should be avoided.

Gluten can also show up in unsuspected places such as lunch meat, soy sauce, baked goods, vitamins and imitation seafood. Read the labels. The FDA has recently determined that in order for a food to be labeled as “gluten-free” it must have an upper limit of 20-parts-per-million in order fall under that designation.

• Jane Riley, M.S., B.A., C.P.T., Certified Nutritional Adviser, can be reached at janerileyfitness@gmail.com, 212-1451 or www.janerileyfitness.com.

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