Gluten-free diet: Trendy or necessary?

Gluten-free diet: Trendy or necessary?

Steering clear of that pesky protein, gluten, which gives dough its elastic texture, seems to be all the rage these days. The growing interest in gluten-free diets has everyone seemingly working hard to avoid wheat and other grains, such as rye, oats and barley, where gluten is most commonly found. Even celebrities and athletes have been jumping on the bandwagon.

But just because your favorite celebrity is doing it, doesn’t  mean you have to or need to, doctors say.

Gluten and celiac disease
Gluten-free diets are geared toward those who have celiac disease, also called gluten-sensitive enteropathy.

“With celiac disease, there’s injury to the villi, the hair-like projections that line the small intestines, which help with nutrient absorption in the gastrointestinal tract,” explains Dr. Richard Bone, an Advocate Medical Group gastroenterologist in Beverly, Ill. “It’s the gluten that causes injury, so if you avoid the gluten, then you avoid the injury.”

He says that celiac disease symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Lack of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss

Celiac disease affects one in every 141 Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. That’s about 1 percent of the population. However, of those with the disease, up to 95 percent either don’t know they have it or have been misdiagnosed.

A diagnosis can be made via blood test, but the definitive test is a biopsy, Dr. Bone explains. A tiny sample of tissue from the small intestine is removed to determine whether villi have been injured. Once that determination has been made, patients are then placed on gluten-free diets.

To go gluten-free or not?
According to the National Institutes of Health, key components of a gluten-free diet include:

  • Beans
  • Corn
  • Fruits and veggies
  • Meat, poultry and fish (unbreaded)
  • Milk-based items
  • Oats (OK for some)
  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Cereal not made with barley or wheat malt

Those restricted to a gluten-free diet can also enjoy foods such as pasta, bread and pastries. But they have to be made with alternative grains such as rice, tapioca, potato, corn starches and flours, and buckwheat.

It makes sense for the segment of the population who suffers from celiac disease to accommodate a gluten-free diet since their bodies are essentially telling them that gluten poses a problem. For those not diagnosed with celiac disease, the need for a gluten-free diet may not be necessary.

“If you don’t have celiac disease, I’m not sure a gluten-free diet will help you, but you are the best judge of that,” Dr. Bone says. “If you feel better after eliminating gluten, do the gluten-free diet. If you don’t feel better, then don’t do it. Listen to your body.

Join Dr. Esperanza Garcia-Alvarez, pediatric gastroenterologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Celiac Center in Park Ridge, Ill., on Friday, November 15 at 11:30 a.m. for AdvocateLive, where she will answer your questions live about celiac disease. Click here to submit your questions now.

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  1. Actually, based on these choices, it sounds like putting yourself on this diet no matter what – whether it's a trend or required by your doctor – is fine. It's like going on a Diabetics Diet. It's cutting out things that you don't need anyway (although the sugar sub's scare me and kinda make me feel yucky after consuming them) like sugar, and you're really kicking up the chances of never getting diabetes! We're told to get rid of (or lessen) our consumption of white sugar and white flour anyway, and one goes with the Diabetics Diet and the other with the Gluten Free Diet. What have we got to lose, but pounds, right?
    As usual, just my opinion. Thanks for reading. 😉

  2. It is a blessing that scientists and nutritionists discovered a causal link between celiac disease and gluten. Eliminating one substance is an easy fix (though a difficult adjustment at first). If it makes you sick you can easily do without it — it is essentially an allergy for some people, much like dairy products. However, before we vilify the product completely, has anyone discovered a dietary BENEFIT from gluten, or is it potentially harmful for all of us? Food advice comes and goes — eggs used to be anathema; now they are OK. Grains themselves are good carbs if they are not overly processed. A piece of fresh multi-grain, rye or whole wheat bread is a treat once in a while with your favorite topping. Much of the world subsists on bread. I wonder if celiac disease is a problem in Egypt, where the government subsidizes bread and for a lot of poor people, that's all there is.

  3. Katherine,

    As good as it may sound to eat gluten free if you feel better, can be misleading. I have celiac disease and must eat a gluten free diet. My wife chooses to eat some gluten free but not all. You will find that many of the Gluten Free foods that are manufactured such as breads, pasta etc. are made with other grains that are high in calories, starch or carbs, and low in fiber. I have found that I cannot lose weight easily because of celiac disease. It has many symptoms, weight gain being one of them. Believe me, I have done a lot of research over the last 13 years of dealing with this disease.

    The best diet for me is fruits, vegetables, nuts, some meat and avoiding processed gluten free foods, which is hard for me.

  4. The author should have also spoke about the huge portion of the population who are NOT celiac, but “gluten-intolerant”. This, too, is a very real condition causing distressing symptoms, but not an actual allergic response. More and more people are reacting in a variety of ways to the increased levels of gluten found in the “normal” American diet, and possibly actually caused by the food industry practices here. It’s no surprise that this is happening, and that we are so unhealthy as a nation, with our carb-heavy, sugar-saturated culture.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.