Nov 01



Who really needs to be gluten free? Can you simply eat less bread? What’s the difference between celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and being allergic to wheat? And is this all some plot to get us to buy the plethora of new, usually more expensive, gluten free products sprouting from our grocery store shelves?

One out of every three people in America say they need to eat gluten free. Be honest…don’t you roll your eyes just a little when they say that? With all the confusion swirling around this topic, it’s no wonder we get a little skeptical when someone says they’ve decided to eat gluten free, lactose free or any of the other frees out there. And what if you’re one of them? It’s so much trouble to read labels and so hard to take a pass on the aromatic french bread basket at the restaurant. Just a little won’t hurt…will it? It might…and it might not…it depends.

There are many reasons people avoid gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley. Often, they are looking for solutions to intestinal symptoms they’ve suffered for most of their lives: gas, bloating, urgent bowel movements, diarrhea and/or constipation. They know where every public restroom is within a 10-mile radius of their home. They’ve been inundated with confusing, conflicting possible causes: irritable bowel syndrome, Chrohn’s disease, food allergies, colitis, or just plain stress. Well-meaning friends, relatives, and often, doctors tell them to ‘just relax’. Right.

If you want to do a little quick research, the Celiac Disease Foundation is a good place to start:

CELIAC DISEASE The granddaddy of reasons for avoiding anything and everything with gluten in it. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, “When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.” Not only do you get cramps, diarrhea, bloating and/or constipation, but you can’t absorb nutrients your body needs. It can lead to anemia, osteoporosis, intestinal cancer, bone or joint pain, and a myriad of other life-limiting or ending diseases.

Celiac disease can be diagnosed with a blood test, followed up by an endoscopic biopsy, but it’s not that simple. Say you’ve learned by trial and error that avoiding gluten works for you. You feel better when you don’t eat it, you have flare ups when you do. But, you want to narrow it down and find out if it’s OK to eat once in a while. Are you simply allergic or do you have true celiac disease, where you must avoid gluten completely? If you get a blood test after not eating gluten for a while, it will come back negative, saying you don’t have the disease, even if you do. The blood test looks for antibodies to gluten, which won’t be there if you haven’t been eating it. You would have to eat gluten for a couple of months, sometimes, in order for it to show up in a blood test for celiac disease. Most people can’t afford to have symptoms that long. They have to work and function in their daily lives, which doesn’t include being tied to a toilet.

According to their website, “not all people who react negatively to gluten actually have celiac disease. The symptoms of gluten sensitivity are similar to those of celiac disease. People who are gluten sensitive experience symptoms in response to eating gluten, but will not have intestinal damage and will test negative for celiac disease antibodies.

What to eat? ┬áThe Paleo diet looks very appealing to those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Simple. You don’t have to make any big decisions, just eat meat, vegetables, nuts and fruit – all of which are gluten free naturally.

So, next time you throw a Saturday Salon – have some compassion for those who are struggling to know what to eat. Put a little something out there for everyone. Paleo is a good way to go – as long as you have plenty of meat or fish (unbridled), veggie and fruit options, you’ll please your vegetarian and even Atkins friends, too.


For additional perspectives, check out this New York Times article, The Myth of Big, Bad, Gluten.

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