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Is a Gluten-Free Diet Healthy?

With the popularity of gluten-free products on the market, an increasing number of people follow a gluten-free diet. However, persons with celiac disease have a true gluten allergy. In celiac disease, the immune system damages the small intestine in response to gluten ingestion. Because the small intestine is the major site for nutrient absorption, deficiencies may occur, causing other health problems. Avoiding gluten entirely will allow the intestine to heal. Thus, a strict gluten-free diet is medically necessary for persons with celiac disease.

Celiac Disease

According to the American Dietetic Association, celiac disease affects approximately 1 percent of Americans. It is also called celiac sprue or gluten intolerance. Celiac disease often goes undiagnosed as symptoms can vary from person to person. Symptoms include gas, diarrhea and stomach pain. Fatigue, joint pain, changes in mood, weight loss and a skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis may occur. If your doctor suspects celiac disease, he will send you for blood tests and a biopsy of the small intestine to confirm the diagnosis. Once diagnosed other tests will ensure you do not have nutrient deficiencies, such as anemia.

Gluten-Free Diet

If you have celiac disease, you must follow a gluten-free diet for life. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. A registered dietitian can help you learn which foods you can eat to avoid damaging your intestine. Reading ingredient lists will help you determine if there are hidden sources of gluten. Avoid foods with wheat starch, modified food starch, wheat bran, wheat germ, cracked wheat, hydrolyzed wheat protein, einkorn, emmer, spelt, kamut and triticale. If the flour in the food product does not specify which grain it comes from, it is most likely wheat flour. Avoid flours described as bromated, durum, enriched, phosphated, plain, self-rising, white and semolina and farina.

Processed Foods

Many processed foods may contain gluten, such as gravy, french fries, rice mixes, sauces, soups, soy sauce, chips, candy and beer. Checking the ingredient list may not always help you verify that there is no “hidden” gluten in the product; you can verify with the manufacturer to ensure it is a gluten-free food. Many gluten-free products have been popping up in grocery stores. The products will specifically state “gluten-free” on the label. Keep in mind that “wheat-free” does not necessarily mean gluten-free.

Deficiency Concerns

A person following a gluten-free diet may be at increased risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies, such as iron, calcium and the B vitamins thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and folate. Fruits, vegetables, beef, poultry, fish, eggs, corn, potatoes, beans, nuts, quinoa, rice, soy and tapioca are some naturally gluten-free foods that can help you obtain a variety of nutrients. If you are interested in taking supplements, make sure that they are gluten-free as well. Other non-food items may contain gluten, such as medications and even stamps or envelopes. A small amount of gluten may cause damage to your intestine. Thus, it is always better to avoid possible consumption.

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  • rice cooking 2 image by Christopher Hall from Fotolia.com

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.