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Nutrition and You!

Should You Follow a Gluten-Free Diet?

FDABread.pngThe gluten-free food trend is a marketing gold mine. The gluten-free industry is raking in over $10 billion annually as individuals are gobbling up these products. While many folks, especially celebrities, are going "gluten-free" as the latest weight loss fad, a diet devoid of gluten won't necessarily help you lose weight. In fact, some gluten-free foods have more calories than their gluten-containing equivalents as extra fat and sugars may be added to make the product palatable.

But if you have removed gluten from your diet and are feeling better, this may not be all in your head, according to Rachel Begun, RDN, the author of The Gluten-Free RD blog.

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According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 2 million people have the disease, which amounts to about 1 in 133 Americans. Individuals with celiac disease can't tolerate specific proteins--collectively called "gluten"--that are found in the grains wheat, barley, and rye.

When these individuals consume gluten, it triggers an inflammatory response in their bodies that damages the lining of the small intestine and interferes with the digestion and absorption of the nutrients in food. This can lead to numerous vitamin, mineral, and other nutrient deficiencies, as well as their corresponding short-term health problems, such as depression, anemia, irritability, nausea, weight loss, diarrhea, constipation, and fatigue to name a few. Over the long-term, complications such as osteoporosis, infertility, thyroid and liver diseases, and intestinal cancers can occur.

Since there isn't any cure for celiac disease, the only treatment is a lifetime of adhering to a gluten-free diet. Unfortunately, even traces of gluten in the diet can cause problems. In addition to the obvious sources of gluten--breads, pastas, cereals, baked goods--it is often added to unsuspecting foods, such as soups, cold cuts, sauces, marinades, and even products such as vitamins and lipstick. Consequently, reading ingredient labels when shopping is necessary to avoid even a morsel of gluten.

But more astonishing, there could be as many as 18 million Americans who suffer from gluten sensitivity, according to Begun. This means that while they don't experience the autoimmune response seen in celiac disease, they may still suffer from some of the gastrointestinal discomfort as well as other symptoms. When these individuals, go on a gluten-free diet they feel much better.

However, a recent research study suggests that for these individuals, gluten may not be the only culprit causing their symptoms. The research suggests that other components in the wheat as well as in specific fruits, vegetables, alcohol, and dairy foods may also be triggering their symptoms.

All individuals, whether with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, should have a doctor specializing in these conditions confirm their diagnosis and then work with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) to develop a healthy, well-balanced diet that meets their unique medical and nutritional needs, says Begun.

You can find a RDN who specializes in gluten-free sensitivity and celiac disease at:

Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Center for Celiac Disease and Treatment at MGH

Celiac Disease Program at Boston Children?s Hospital

Be well, Joan
Follow Joan on Twitter at: @joansalgeblake