Gluten is a protein, which is found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. These grains can be found in many common and beloved foods including bread, breakfast cereal, pasta, processed foods, sauces, and alcohol. Why would someone want to avoid these common foods with a gluten-free diet?
Because Some People Have Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is a digestive and autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine’s lining when foods with gluten are consumed. The resulting intestinal damage makes it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients.
What About Others Who Don’t have Celiac but Maintain a Gluten-Free Diet
Experts recognize three gluten-related conditions: Celiac disease, wheat allergy, and gluten sensitivity. These are the three reasons for a gluten-free diet.
However, as many as one-in-three Americans tries to avoid gluten.
Health professionals don’t recommend gluten-free diets unless absolutely necessary. Why? Because there are advantages to eating wheat, barley, and rye for those who don’t have gluten issues. Wheat, barley, and rye are linked to reduced risk of coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and other diseases.
So, what other misunderstandings are there about gluten?
Four of the Most Persistent Gluten-Free Diet Myths
Gluten-Free Diet Myth 1: The Gluten-free Diet (GFD) is a healthy lifestyle choice with no disadvantages
There is no data supporting the presumed health benefits of a GFD for individuals who do not have celiac disease, wheat allergy, or gluten sensitivity.
In fact, the opposite may be true in certain cases, particularly when the diet is followed without the guidance of an experienced registered dietitian or physician.
Gluten-Free Diet Myth 2: Gluten is toxic
There are no data to support the theory of an intrinsically toxic property of gluten for healthy adults and children. For the large majority of people, gluten proteins pass through the gastrointestinal tract without leading to disease.
Gluten-Free Diet Myth 3: Gluten sensitivity doesn’t really exist
Yes, it does exist. Although many symptoms are similar, the two conditions are very different metabolically. In non-celiac gluten sensitivity, there is not the same intestinal inflammation that we see in people with celiac disease.
Gluten-Free Diet Myth 4: People with celiac disease can eat a little bit of gluten
A group of scientists from St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London published a study in 1988 concluding that adult celiac patients could safely consume a low-gluten diet. Unfortunately, that misconception is still with us.
We now know this is not true. There is solid evidence that traces of gluten can be as harmful as large amounts, even if the consequences appear years later. People with celiac disease must avoid gluten at all costs.
Do You Think You Might Have One of the Gluten Intolerant Conditions
The first step is a blood test looking for an antibody response to gluten.
If these tests are positive, the next step is an endoscopy. An endoscopy determines damage to the intestinal cells. This is considered the best indicator of celiac disease.
There is currently no test for non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Instead, this sensitivity would be a “rule out” diagnosis. In other words, if the celiac test is negative and a wheat allergy has been ruled out, and you respond well to a gluten-free diet, then you may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Image Credit: Shutterstock