Gluten Free Diets

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a “Managing Gluten-Free Diets” conference in Pennsylvania.

gluten free

The conference was a full day event led by Dietitian Marlisa Brown. She is an expert on the topic and provided very helpful information.

The gluten free diet has recently become a popular diet trend. Many believe that it can aid in weight loss but there is not scientific research that proves this (gluten free foods are often  higher in fat and calories!). It is recommended that you only follow a gluten free diet if you are experiencing symptoms from celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

Celiac disease is a disease in which the body is unable to digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye products.

Some important information:

  • Celiac disease affects 1 in 133 people in North America
  • Celiac disease can lead to nutritional deficiencies, gastrointestinal disorders and autoimmune diseases
  • Gluten intolerance (non-celiac) affects millions of people in the world. Symptoms are similar to that of celiac disease but it does not cause nutritional deficiencies.
  • The only treatment for either celiac disease or gluten intolerance is following a gluten free diet

Symptoms of celiac disease and gluten intolerance range far and wide and may include:

  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Abdominal pain/bloating & gas
  • Malnutrition or failure to thrive
  • Constipation/diarrhea
  • GERD
  • Anemia
  • Hair loss
  • Migraines
  • Seizures
  • Memory problems
  • Depression or irritability

If celiac disease is left untreated, villi in the intestine break down leading to nutrient malabsorption and deficiencies. Ingesting gluten could result in the following autoimmune diseases

  • Type 1 Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, IBS, Osteoporosis, Migraines, Sarcoidosis, Dental Problems, Infertility, Alopecia, Down Syndrome, and many more

With gluten intolerance, villi are not affected and therefore malabsorption does not occur. Therefore side effects are not as severe.

So where exactly is gluten found? Gluten can be found in any product derived of wheat, barley or rye. This includes the following

  • Barley (malt)
  • Beer
  • Brewer’s Yeast
  • Grains such as pasta, bread, couscous, Bulgur, Farina, Crackers, Spelt, Matzo
  • Wheat germ, Wheat bran
  • Seitan
  • Baked goods such as cookies, cakes, muffins
  • Soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce

Foods that are naturally gluten free (without any extra ingredients added) include:

  • Meat (beef, pork, fish, poultry)
  • Eggs
  • Dairy, butter, margarine, vegetable oils
  • Fruits and vegetables and juices
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Corn tortillas and chips
  • Certain grains: Amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, gluten free oats, teff, tapioca, potatoes, rice
  • Pure spices and herbs
  • Distilled liquor, wine (without any added flavorings)

With the increasing prevalence of celiac disease and gluten intolerance there are many gluten free alternatives now available. Below is a sampling of some of my favorites:

Many restaurants now have gluten free menus, so don’t be afraid to ask!

If you think you may suffer from celiac disease or gluten intolerance speak to your gastroenterologist. They will first give you a blood test to identify whether or not you have genes associated with celiac disease. If you test positive the next step is an endoscopy to confirm a diagnosis. If you do not have the gene you do not have celiac disease but could still have an intolerance. Work with a Registered Dietitian to come up with a meal plan that will suit your needs.

Time for a shameless self plug. Georgetown was rated as one of the top 10 Gluten Free Campuses by Udi’s Gluten Free foods!

Have a great day 🙂

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