I Have Some Questions About Gluten-Free Diets

Published: May 19, 2014
Dear I Have Some Questions About Gluten-Free Diets,

Everywhere I go I keep seeing more foods that are called gluten-free. Why do some people need to eat gluten-free foods? How do you know if you should be eating gluten-free food?

Dear I Have Some Questions About Gluten-Free Diets,

Gluten-free food is normally seen as a diet for people with celiac disease or people with gluten sensitivity. Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat, oats, barley, rye, and related components such as triticale, durum, graham, kamut, semolina, spelt, malt, malt flavoring, or malt vinegar . A gluten-free diet excludes food that contains gluten, but allows for fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, rice and many dairy products. A gluten-free diet rules out breads, pastas, and many convenience foods.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which gluten causes the immune system to attack the intestinal lining of the small intestine, resulting in inability to absorb nutrients into the body. If untreated, symptoms can include diarrhea, bloating, anemia, bone pain, and a severe skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis. People can also develop health problems such as osteoporosis, infertility, neurological problems and even lymphoma of the small intestine.

Many people today are adopting gluten-free diets to treat celiac disease-like symptoms in the absence of a positive diagnosis for celiac disease. Many believe that a gluten-free diet is healthier and can promote weight loss, but gluten alone does not contain specific nutritional value. The term 'gluten-free' is generally used to indicate a supposed harmless level of gluten rather than a complete absence, however, the exact level at which gluten is harmless is uncertain and controversial.

Despite the health claims for gluten-free eating, there is no published experimental evidence to support such claims for the general population. A gluten-free diet does not hold the same benefits for individual without Celiac disease or gluten-sensitivity. Although gluten-free foods may have some fiber and/or nutrients that are found in their gluten versions, they tend to have fewer fiber and nutrients, while using sugar and fat to make up for the absence of gluten.

A healthy diet recommends that half of a person’s carbohydrates should come from whole grains. Many grains, especially whole grains that have gluten in them, are beneficial as they are enriched with minerals, vitamins, and fiber. There are also some whole grains that do not contain gluten, such as quinoa or millet. Unless care is taken, a gluten-free diet may lack vitamins, minerals, and fiber – so if you are eating a gluten-free diet, it is important to know what foods to include so you are getting all the nutrients your body needs.

Several organizations, such as the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO), the Celiac Sprue Association (CSA), and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), certify products and companies as gluten-free. Check out http://www.celiaccentral.org for more information on Gluten free food, products and recipes. 

If you have any questions or concerns about your diet (or any related symptoms or problems) speak to your doctor about it. If you don't have a doctor and live in northern New Jersey, you can call the Adolescent/Young Adult Center for Health at 973-971-5199 for an appointment with an adolescent medicine specialist or contact your local teen health center. You can also contact your insurance company for a list of in-network providers.