Is Gluten-free for me?

Is Gluten-Free for Me? 

If you are like most people, you have been enjoying breads, cereals, pasta, and pizza all your life. Then you learn that eating these carbohydrate rich foods in excess can lead to weight gain, so you cut back your portions. Now you have been hearing about people eliminating these foods because they are going “gluten-free.” Gluten-free diets have been a increasing in popularity for several years now and you may be wondering what this is all about. What is gluten and how do I know if I can’t have it? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, and malt products. Gluten allergies can be diagnosed with a blood test, while gluten intolerance can be detected with a disciplined food diary with the help of a Registered Dietitian or healthcare professional.


Although following a gluten-free diet is definitely trendy these days, there are some people who have a severe food allergy to gluten and must take strict precautions to eliminate it completely. These people have been diagnosed with Celiac disease, in which the body has an immune system response to the gluten protein that results in severe inflammation of the small intestine and malabsorption. Some may experience food intolerance to gluten, which involves an adverse reaction in the digestion system but not an immune response. These people can typically tolerate small amounts of gluten. Others may have a gluten sensitivity, which includes both allergy and intolerance.


The evidence suggests that about 1% of the population has an adverse reaction to gluten, however is quickly growing as the 8th most common food allergy in America. Self reported sensitivity to wheat is becoming more common as some people find that they feel better when they eliminate or cut down on their wheat and gluten consumption. This could be due to possible gluten sensitivity or it could be because they were consuming too much pizza, bagels, and cookies, and now that they have cut out the junk food, they feel better.


If you don’t have a medical reason for following a gluten-free diet, then it is best that you don’t go out of your way to eliminate it. Whole grains that contain the protein gluten, also have key nutrients that are necessary for a balanced diet. These foods are made up of healthy complex carbohydrates, fiber, and B vitamins and are fortified with iron, calcium, and Vitamin D. Gluten-free breads and pastas tend to have less fiber, more calories, more sugar, and more fats than the original whole wheat varieties. There has been an alarming amount of gluten-free junk foods that have hit the shelves, such as gluten-free cakes, cookies, and crackers. Don’t fall for this trap! Just because it is gluten-free does not mean that it is healthier or will help you lose weight.


If you think you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, go see your doctor or make an appointment with an allergist to get tested. It is important that you don’t eliminate gluten on your own before this test, since the antibodies might not show up, thus showing a false negative. Keep in mind that sometimes tests can come back as a false positive, meaning that although the blood test showed a gluten allergy, they can eat wheat without any allergic symptoms. If you are unsure about the accuracy of your test results and you still suspect that your body doesn’t agree well with gluten, you may eliminate gluten for 4 weeks while keeping a food diary and then re-introduce gluten to see if you have a reaction. Make notes in your food diary about your energy levels, bowel changes, and mood changes.


To learn more about how to conduct a 4-Week Elimination Diet and Food Challenge, consult your dietitian, physician, or allergist. Keeping a food diary is an important part in working together to pinpoint a possible problem. You know your body better than anyone, and it pays off to team up with a professional to help figure out what works for you. You deserve to look and feel your absolute best! Now that you have educated yourself, rather than following the trends, you can be empowered by determining what is best for you.


Written by Sara Nicole Ansari, R.D.

September 2012