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Thinking of going gluten-free? It’s all the rage and there are endless gluten-free products in stores that make it easier than ever to take this single ingredient out of your diet. But, don’t be fooled! It’s a common theme for consumers to switch to eating gluten-free because of the belief that it’s healthier, but this is not always the case. Before choosing to go gluten-free, consider the why and the how.
Today, many consumers are choosing to go gluten-free due to symptoms often associated with gluten-containing foods. Feeling bloated after pizza and beer last night? Extra tired at work after a greasy breakfast sandwich from the convenience store? Or maybe you’re struggling to lose weight? These symptoms could be due to a gluten reaction or they could be due to the excessive fat, sugar, and overall calories in foods that often contain gluten. Your journey to feeling better may be as simple as swapping an apple for your morning donut or adding in a couple of days of exercise.
What is gluten?
Let’s take a glutinous look at why one may need to go gluten-free (or not!). Before self-diagnosing yourself into what could be a potentially dangerous eating pattern if done poorly, it’s best to understand what gluten is and how some populations react to it.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat types (durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn, faro), barley, rye, and triticale.
Gluten has been found to cause more than just digestive issues in some populations.
- Celiac Disease (CD): CD is an auto-immune disease triggered by eating gluten and results in damage to the small intestines. Symptoms are different for everyone. Some may have an immediate uncomfortable digestive response or break out in skin rashes, experience weight loss or gain, develop malnutrition, or have no symptoms at all (this is called “asymptomatic” or “non-classical” CD). For a full list of symptoms, go here.
- Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS): NCGS is defined as “a condition that occurs in individuals who are unable to tolerate gluten and experience symptoms similar to those associated with celiac disease.” The term changed from “gluten intolerance” to “gluten sensitivity” in 2012, so you may still hear both. It’s estimated that at least 18 million Americans have a sensitivity to gluten. Symptoms typically involve feeling bloated, having diarrhea or constipation, abdominal pain, headache, fatigue, and more.
Why go gluten-free?
The main reasons to take gluten out of your life are to either treat CD or lessen symptoms of NCGS. Going gluten-free does not necessarily mean eating “healthier.” This isn’t just another fad diet, but rather a lifestyle change. And for those who are truly sensitive to gluten, it can seem like a fairly restrictive diet at first. Gluten is in more than just bread, pasta, and cookies. It hides in sauces, condiments, burger patties, and your favorite craft beer.
There are plenty of gluten-free products out there that add to your waistline the same way as gluten-full food products. Many gluten-containing foods like whole-wheat bread, faro salads, and spelt-flour muffins can be nutrient-dense and add fiber to the diet, so it would be a shame to miss out on these health benefits. On the other hand, eliminating those processed gluten-y foods like coffee shop pastries and take-out pizza while replacing them with more whole foods like a morning piece of fruit and dinner salads can also be beneficial.
All things considered…
So with all things considered, if you think you may be reacting to gluten or experiencing unusual symptoms, let your Doctor know first before trying to self-diagnose. You’ll want a GI specialist to make the right diagnostic call for your gut. Following a gluten-free diet needs proper planning to ensure you’re not missing out on any important nutrients. Keep reading for how to check if gluten should be a part of your diet or not.
Check with your Doctor
First and foremost, have a check-up with your primary care physician and discuss your signs and symptoms. If necessary, he/she may refer you to a specialist for further testing.
Don’t have Celiac Disease? Assess your diet.
If the Doctor says you’re in the clear, then you’ll want to assess your typical diet to see what changes can be made to help you feel better. Cooking at home, eating more fresh, whole foods, controlling portions, and drinking more water are simple upgrades to your diet that don’t necessarily restrict you from eating gluten.
Make gluten-free fun
Not in the clear? Have no fear! Make going gluten-free a fun and simple transition. Pinterest is booming with gluten-free recipes for all palates! Book stores are booming with shelves of gluten-free cookbooks. And good ole Google knows all the best gluten-free restaurant menus close to you. Fill up on this hearty bean soup or start your party off with this sweet and savory app.
Find a nutritionist
Refer to a Registered Dietitian if you are still experiencing symptoms, are curious about the quality of your current eating patterns, or have any other questions.
About the Author
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)
Shannon is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor with over 5 years of experience working in Corporate Wellness specializing in overall health, nutrition, and fitness. Throughout her journey to becoming an RDN, she grew her passion for culinary nutrition by teaching and developing hands-on cooking classes for all ages in the community.
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