The lowdown on gluten

By Mina Radman • Published: July 10th, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Gluten-free is a term you’ve likely heard but may not fully understand. Gluten-free foods are rampant in grocery stores and on restaurant menus. But what does the term mean?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It damages the small intestine of people who have celiac disease, a rare autoimmune disorder affecting 1 percent of the population. Others have gluten sensitivity, which causes gastrointestinal distress and fatigue but doesn’t damage the small intestine. Following a gluten-free diet helps these people control their symptoms. This means avoiding most breads, pasta, pizza and baked goods, as well as certain salad dressings and condiments.

Gluten-free living has become trendy among those looking to eat healthier diets, but gluten may be getting a bum rap. It is key to making baked goods fluffy, and studies suggest it could help prevent Type 2 diabetes in some people. Gluten-free products, in turn, contain alternatives that can increase the amount of fat, sodium and calories.

If you are interested in reducing or eliminating gluten, focus on naturally gluten-free foods, including beans, eggs, meats, fruits, vegetables and dairy products. You should also consider taking a multivitamin as the diet can cause low levels of iron, fiber and calcium.

It’s important for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities to avoid cross-contamination, as accidental exposure can cause diarrhea and abdominal problems. If you think gluten is giving you trouble, talk to your doctor. Blood tests can show if you have a gluten sensitivity and help you map a course to a healthier lifestyle.