Gluten free, is it for me?

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Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It is estimated that 1 in 133 people show symptoms of gluten sensitivity. Those who have celiac disease cannot tolerate even the smallest amounts of gluten. In contrast to celiac, non-celiac gluten intolerance is neither an autoimmune disorder nor an allergy. Non-celiac gluten intolerance or sensitivity is thought to be an immune system response. In the past, these gluten sensitivities have been underdiagnosed, but with increased information and awareness, the diagnosis has become more prevalent. The symptoms of indigestion, bloating, diarrhea and fatigue can be similar in both conditions, but they are more severe in celiac disease, which has long-term health consequences.
Many people currently believe that gluten is a bad thing. They mistakenly believe that following a gluten-free diet is a good way to lose weight. A gluten-free diet is specifically meant for people who cannot digest gluten. For those without gluten sensitivity following a gluten-free diet can have serious side effects. In an effort to mimic the taste and flavor of their gluten containing foods, gluten-free foods frequently contain more fat and refined carbohydrate and thus are higher in calories. In addition, a gluten-free diet is often low in carbohydrates, fiber, iron, folate, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and zinc. Contrary to the belief that gluten-free diets promote weight loss, most celiac patients find they gain weight in response to the increased fat and sugar in many gluten-free products.
The gluten-free diet is meant specifically for those with a gluten intolerance or sensitivity. For the larger population, gluten is a harmless protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Those suspicious of a gluten-sensitivity should seek the guidance of both a doctor and a registered dietitian. Changing to a gluten-free lifestyle can be challenging and costly. Consumers seeking to eat a highly nutritious diet to maintain or lose weight should consider eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Most of us can spend our food dollars more wisely by choosing fewer processed foods and preparing simple meals at home.
Bastin, S., Mullins, J., Workman, L., and White, L. (2012). The Gluten-Free Choice. Retrieved October 2013 from http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/FCS3/FCS3564/FCS3564.pdf
Source:  Janet Mullins, Extension Specialist for Food and Nutrition, University Of Kentucky; College of Agriculture, Food and Environment

Jane Proctor is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer services.