Q&A About Gluten Free
Q: What is gluten?
A: Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley or rye.
It is the the binder or the "glue" that holds together dough and helps create a soft texture in baked goods.
In someone with Celiac Disease, it is extremely important to avoid any type of gluten.
Q: What is Celiac Disease?
A: Celiac Disease is an auto-immune disease where the body sees gluten as an "enemy".
The body gives off antibodies when gluten is ingested and attacks itself, specifically in the intestine.
The more often gluten is ingested, the more damage is caused to the intestine.
Untreated celiac disease which results in intestinal damage can cause many types of health problems, including diarrhea, malabsorption, failure to thrive (specifically in infants/children), other auto-immune disorders, cancer and much more.
Here's a great article explaining more: What is Celiac Disease?
Q: What are symptoms of Celiac Disease?
A: There are more than 300 documented symptoms for Celiac Disease and they can vary for each person.
According to www.celiaccentral.org: "These differences can make celiac disease diagnosis extremely difficult, resulting in 95% of celiacs undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions."
*Side note: If you are questioning if you or someone you know has Celiac Disease, you can take a quiz here: If symptoms are gastrointestinal, these can include diarrhea, constipation (or alternating constipation/diarrhea), heartburn, abdominal pain, vomiting and/or bloating/excess gas. However, these symptoms can be mistaken for IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), Crohn's Disease, ulcers or other ailments. Other times, instead of gastrointestinal, symptoms can be unexplained anemia, skin rashes, thyroid disorders, fatigue, depression, joint pain, headaches and many others.
Q: How is Celiac Disease diagnosed?
A: Due to all the varying symptoms, Celiac Disease can be hard to diagnose. To be accurately tested (in spite of all of the warning of how bad gluten is for a person with celiac disease), gluten has to be present in the body in order for it to be detected. That means if gluten was already taken out of the diet, it has to be added back in. Some people feel so much better off gluten that they aren't willing to go back on gluten. In my opinion, I think it's important to be tested because Celiac Disease is an auto-immune disease and can sometimes go alongside with other auto-immune diseases (type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto's thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis and others). It's also important to be tested on a regular basis to make sure that there is no further damage to the small intestine and to monitor healing.
*Side note: A few years ago, after being off gluten for a few years, I was still having GI symptoms and decided to get tested for Celiac Disease. I had to add gluten back into my diet for 3 months in order to have an colonoscopy/endoscopy to rule out Celiac Disease or other GI diseases. Fortunately I don't have Celiac Disease. Unfortunately, gluten still bothers me, so I no longer eat it. This is typically called gluten intolerance or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.The typical tests for Celiac Disease start with blood tests for specific antibodies and genetic markers. The next step is an endoscopy (under anesthesia) for a biopsy of the small intestine to view if there is damage.
Q: Is there a cure for Celiac Disease?
A: Unfortunately, there is no cure for Celiac Disease and the only known treatment is a lifelong strict gluten free diet.
Q: Isn't Celiac Disease just a childhood disease?
A: Celiac Disease can be diagnosed at any age. Some people are diagnosed as children, but others don't acquire the disease until later in life.
This along with the varying symptoms, adds to the complexity of diagnosing the disease.
Q: Why is Celiac Disease and/or gluten intolerance seemingly becoming more and more common?
A: The "theory" behind the increased instances is that wheat is being genetically bred at higher and higher protein levels and our bodies don't know how to to digest it.
Another second thing is I think that awareness for Celiac Disease is growing and more people are getting tested. Awareness is a great thing for people with Celiac Disease for several reasons. There is a much greater variety of products to choose from compared to even 5 years ago. Restaurants are also trying to get involved and offer gluten free options (still be wary of the possibility of cross contamination). People are realizing that they are not alone.
Q: I heard that I will lose weight if I cut out gluten, is that true?
A: That's a tricky question. If you cut out gluten containing products such as bread, crackers, cereals and other "starchy" (carbohydrate containing) foods, you may lose weight (although it depends on what else you eat). However, cutting out carbohydrates or eating a low-carbohydrate diet is hard to follow and the weight loss will most likely not be maintained long-term. On the other hand, if you find gluten free substitutes in "boxed" products for breads, cookies, crackers, etc., you will probably gain weight, not lose weight. Gluten free products are higher in carbohydrates, sugar, and fat and are often lacking in fiber and nutrients.
Q: Is eating gluten free healthier for me?
A: As mentioned in the previous question, the typical gluten free "boxed" products are higher in carbohydrates, sugar and fat and lower in nutrients than gluten containing products. Eating a "typical" gluten free diet (white rice, tapioca starch, potato starch, corn starch) can cause nutrient deficiencies in B vitamins, iron, calcium and fiber. If you want to eat healthy on a gluten free diet, I highly recommend going "back to the basics" (a few notes from my presentation).
- Eat whole foods (not boxed) including a variety of leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits. Make your plate as colorful as possible.
- Use gluten free whole grains such as buckwheat, millet, sorghum, quinoa and brown rice. These are all high in fiber and contain the nutrients that are missing in the typical white rice, tapioca starch, potato starch and corn starch found in most gluten free products.
- Learn to cook/bake at home. It can be tricky, at first, learning how to cook or bake without gluten. If you want help, I have a lot of recipes and tips that I can share. Please contact me for a consultation.
- Add in healthy fats - walnuts, salmon (preferably Alaskan wild caught, if possible), avocado, olive oil, coconut oil. Check labels and avoid trans fats and hydrogenated oils. Side note: if trans fat is 0, check the ingredients. If their is the term hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, there is trans fat in the product. The labeling law allows 0 to be 0.5 g of trans fat or less. Still too much, in my opinion!
- Drink enough water - some of us are chronically dehydrated it and don't even know it.