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
- Lack of appetite
- 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:
- Fruits and veggies
- Meat, poultry and fish (unbreaded)
- Milk-based items
- Oats (OK for some)
- 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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