There is so much confusion nowadays regarding gluten; who needs to avoid it, whether you need to avoid it to eat healthy, what foods contain it, where can one find gluten free products…

First let’s understand what gluten is. In simple terms, gluten is a protein found in WHEAT, RYE and BARLEY and which can cause sensitivity, allergies or other severe problems to the intestinal surface when one has celiac disease.

Next, what are the three conditions mentioned above? Let’s understand them.

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Celiac Disease (CD)

This is a condition in which the immune system reacts to gluten. Gliadin is a protein and a component of gluten which cannot be entirely degraded by the intestines and causes the immune system reaction.

The consequences are many: damage to the intestinal lining (and subsequent malabsorption of nutrients, rashes (dermatitis), joint pain, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, among other symptoms.

CD is triggered in genetically predisposed individuals and it affects 1 in 133 individuals in the American population (about 1% of the population). Celiac Disease is diagnosed with a specific blood test that looks for antibodies reacting to the proteins in gluten.

Wheat allergy

Uusually people are not allergic to gluten, but allergic to wheat, so we will call this condition wheat allergy instead of gluten allergy. It is usually genetic but the symptoms are different to the symptoms of CD.

Wheat allergy symptoms usually are: hives or skin rash, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, congested or runny nose, sneezing, headaches, respiratory issues such as asthma and anaphylactic shock (life threatening, but a less common symptom). Wheat allergy is diagnosed with a blood test, in which the allergic person will present antibodies that react to wheat.

Gluten sensitivity Gluten and the Gluten-free Diet 

Also called non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), it is not auto-immune, and it usually does not cause damage to the intestinal lining. However, the symptoms definitely affect the gastrointestinal tract: bloating, diarrhea or constipation, pain after ingestion of gluten, fatigue, gas, cramps.

NCGS is more likely to develop in people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a chronic gastrointestinal condition which presents abdominal pain, discomfort, changes in bowel habits and bloating, and it is usually impacted by the nervous system.

There is no real medical diagnosis of gluten sensitivity yet. A gastroenterologist will first test someone with abdominal cramps or other symptoms mentioned above that are pertaining to their respective conditions; they will test for wheat allergy and celiac disease first before trying to determine if someone is gluten sensitive.

If a patient has been eating gluten, the symptoms should be alleviated once they stop eating it. If the patient feels no pain or other discomfort on a gluten-free diet, it is very likely this patient has gluten sensitivity.

Gluten and the Gluten-free Diet_2

Is a gluten-free for you?

Now, let’s understand if you need a gluten-free diet. Do you present the symptoms described above for the different conditions? If not, you do not need to follow a gluten-free diet.

If you feel bloated, or if you have abdominal cramps after eating bread, pasta and other products made with wheat, rye or barley, you might want to look for a gastroenterologist to get some testing done and find out if you have any of the above conditions. If you do know you have any of the above, you have to follow a gluten-free diet. In case of wheat allergy only, you only have to avoid wheat and its products.

How and where can you find gluten-free products?

Usually stores nowadays have entire sections with gluten-free products. Also, the packaging and label will assure you that a product is gluten-free.

Cereals that are gluten free include: millet, buckwheat, farro, teff, sorghum, amaranth, corn, quinoa (which is really a seed, but people refer to it as a grain), and all kinds of rice.

Are oats gluten-free?

They are naturally gluten-free, but sometimes they are processed in plants not dedicated to gluten-free products, and they might contain traces of gluten for that reason.

In the case of celiac disease, the products to look for and consume are the ones processed in a plant dedicated to gluten-free products, since they don’t have any traces of gluten. In the case of mixed grains (such as microwavable grain blends), make sure their label mentions gluten-free, or read the ingredient list to make sure there are no traces of gluten in the product.

Other observations: to follow a gluten-free diet you have to check each and every ingredient of everything you eat. Many times products like chocolate, candy, dips, and other prepared foods in general might contain gluten.

You also can ask for a gluten-free menu in restaurants. If they don’t have one, you’ll have to ask the waiter and manager if there are ingredients containing gluten in the food you might choose. Even salad dressings might contain gluten, so be aware and make sure the ingredients are gluten-free.

Do you have any other questions regarding the gluten-free diet or any other nutrition question? Send me a message here through my profile page. Just send me a question and I may be able to help you. I provide consultations online or in person in the Newark, NJ area.

I’m happy to help you become healthier.

To your health!

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