What You Need To Know Before Going Gluten-Free

There’s been a lot of buzz about going gluten-free the past couple of years.  Misinformation about gluten and celiac disease has led people to believe that limiting or eliminating gluten from the diet will speed up weight loss, let you kiss that muffin top goodbye once and for all, and improve your overall health. But some people may not know exactly what gluten is and whether or not eliminating it from their diet will actually be beneficial to them.

In reality, unless you have celiac disease, a gluten free diet won’t make you any healthier or help you reach your weight loss goals quicker.  Many nutritionists – and even Dr. Oz – agree that unless you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, eliminating all foods that contains gluten from your diet isn’t a good idea and you may end up nutritionally shortchanged.

Katherine Tallmadge, a dietitian and author of the book Diet Simple, says whole grains, which contain gluten, are a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Gluten-free products are often made with refined grains, and are low in nutrients. If you embrace a gluten-free diet, you’ll end up “eating a lot of foods that are stripped of nutrients,” Studies show gluten-free diets can be deficient in fiber, iron, folate, niacin, thiamine, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and zinc, she said.


What Is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a digestive disorder triggered by eating the protein gluten.  People with celiac disease who eat foods containing gluten experience an immune reaction in their small intestines, causing damage to the inner surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients.

The primary symptoms of celiac disease include intermittent diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating. Some people with celiac disease do not have the typical intestinal distress but instead have other symptoms including  irritability or depression, anemia, stomach upset, joint pain, muscle cramps, skin rash, mouth sores, dental and bone disorders, weight loss, general weakness and fatigue.

The multiple symptoms are a result of the damage the disease does to the small intestine that prevents it from absorbing nutrients properly.  Necessary nutrients like fat, protein, vitamin and minerals are eliminated before they can be absorbed.

The exact cause of celiac disease is not known but it is believed to be partly genetic and people with certain gene mutations are more likely to have the disease.  It is also found to be more common in people with type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease, Down syndrome and microscopic colitis.

Left untreated, celiac can lead to malnutrition, loss of bone density as a result of lost calcium, lactose intolerance, cancer, and neurological complications.

Diagnosing Ciliac Disease

If you’re plagued with any or all of the symptoms, you’ll want to make an appointment with your doctor so that a proper diagnosis can be made.  A blood test that can detect higher than normal levels of certain antibodies and collecting a small sample of intestine through an endoscopy procedure may be part of the process for diagnosis.  In some cases doctors may have you swallow small camera so they can get pictures of the small intestine.

Where’s The Gluten?

Gluten is found in a variety of foods, but primarily in bread and  pasta products.  Food and drinks that contain barley, bulgur, durum, farina, graham flour, rye, semolina, spelt, and wheat should be avoided.   That means breads, cakes, cookies, crackers, imitation meats and seafood, oats, some salad dressings and sauces, and soups unless they have a gluten-free label.

Foods that are naturally gluten free are corn, cornmeal, quinoa, rice, tapioca, fresh meats, fish and poultry, fruits, potatoes, rice, vegetables, wine and distilled liquors, and most dairy products.

Gluten Free Goddess Blog

If you do have celiac disease and need to eliminate gluten from your diet you can still enjoy a variety of foods and an active lifestyle, but it may require some adjustments.  The Gluten Free Goddess blog has pages of recipes, tips and support for people that are diagnosed with celiac disease and need to make a pretty dramatic lifestyle change of eliminating the gluten from their diet.

Karina of Gluten Free Goddess  was diagnosed with gluten intolerance in 2001 and has been cooking and baking gluten-free ever since.  Her site has hundreds of original recipes and she has a new eBook cookbook, Gluten-Free Goddess – Best Loved Recipes, that is available on iTunes.  Check out The Gluten Free Goddess web site here.

Have you tried going gluten-free?  What challenges did you have to overcome?

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