Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats. Gluten acts like a “glue” to hold food together. Most people can eat foods with gluten without any problems. However, for some, gluten can cause injury to the cells of the bowel wall (small intestine) which leads to incomplete digestion and malabsorption of nutrients. This also creates symptoms of gas, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Who needs a gluten-free diet?
A gluten-free diet is recommended for people diagnosed with Celiac disease and also those who are sensitive to gluten.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects about 1 in 100 people worldwide. This disease is also known as celiac sprue and non-tropical sprue. To make a diagnosis, the doctor will order tests which may include a blood test and an endoscopy with a biopsy of the duodenum (small bowel). People with Celiac disease must completely avoid gluten to control symptoms and prevent serious complications.
There are some people who do not have Celiac disease, but find that symptoms improve with a gluten-free diet. These people may have Non-Celiac gluten sensitivity and can tolerate small amounts of gluten and follow a diet that is very low in gluten.
What is a gluten-free diet?
A gluten-free diet means you cannot eat any food containing wheat, rye, barley, and oats. This includes flour, breads, crackers, muffins, baking mixes, pasta, pastries, cereal, processed meats and substitutes, beer, ale, lager, and malt vinegar.
There are many gluten-free food choices! You can eat rice, corn, potatoes, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, soybean and flours made from these. You can also eat gluten-free pastas, fruits, vegetables, meat, and seafood.
If you are just beginning a gluten-free diet, you should seek help from your doctor and if possible, a dietitian who can help you develop a plan to ensure you follow a healthy diet with all of the nutrients you need. A dietitian can also point out hidden gluten in some foods, food additives, medications and vitamins. Eatright.org is a great internet resource.
There are many websites and books with delicious gluten-free recipes! See two of my favorite gluten-free recipes below: Banana Bread Pancakes and Cherry Vanilla Bars!
If you would like to schedule an appointment with one of our providers about Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, please contact us.