Gluten-Free Diet: Trend or Necessity

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Chelsea Clinton had a gluten-free cake at her recent nuptials. Word is that she has a gluten allergy. Elizabeth Hasselback blamed her infertility on gluten. Wheat allergy or not, “gluten-free” is definitely a buzzword that really stands out. Gluten is the protein that is found primarily in wheat, rye, barley and oats, and hidden in a wide variety of processed and prepared foods. Because gluten is hard to digest, it can wreak havoc on our bodies causing symptoms that range from fatigue, bloating and gas to malabsorption of nutrients, infertility and even osteoporosis.

While some people are going gluten-free to help them lose weight, many make the switch out of necessity. Determining whether you have celiac disease or are just sensitive to gluten can mean the difference between eliminating gluten from  your diet for the rest of your life, or just cutting back on the amount of gluten you consume. So what’s the difference between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity? Celiac is a hereditary autoimmune disease with no known cure, except eliminating all gluten from your diet. Gluten sensitivity can cause some uncomfortable symptoms but be controlled by reducing the amount of gluten you eat, or taking digestive aids. A simple blood test can give you a pretty good idea if you have the disease. Talk to your doctor if you think you may be suffering from either condition.

According to Peter H.R. Green, MD, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University in NYC, gluten is very hard for anyone to digest and is the only protein in nature that our bodies cannot completely metabolize.  The result: undigested gluten can stay in the gastrointestinal tract and cause irritation and inflammation.

Unlike celiac disease, which is hereditary, gluten sensitivity can also be linked to environmental pollution, pesticides in our foods, use of antibiotics, and anti inflammatory drugs that alter our digestive system’s immune function and reduce our ability to properly digest gluten. Guess what? High levels of stress – mental, physical and emotional – can all contribute to the problem.

This all sounds like bad news, doesn’t it? Especially when all you want right now is a plate of pasta and warm bread. Well, the upside is that gluten-free foods have become readily available and surprisingly palatable over the last few years. Most grocery stores have a well-stocked gluten-free section. Going gluten-free or cutting back on gluten can also make you open your taste buds to wonderful ancient grains like amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat and wild rice, all of which provide protein, fiber and delicious flavors.

There is more good news – people who focus on healing their digestive tract system by eliminating gluten and eating a non-processed, healthy diet can potentially transform their health and how they feel. So, trend or necessity, try cutting back on gluten and see how you feel in a week. You may surprise yourself.

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September 2010
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