Whether you’ve taken a stroll down the bread aisle at your favorite grocery store, or visited your favorite artisan bakery, you’ve probably noticed a growing number of labels that proclaim, “gluten free!” Peruse your local bookstore and you’ll find several magazines with headlines about gluten intolerance next to books on gluten free living. What’s behind the hype on gluten, and why are so many people jumping on the bandwagon?
Living a Gluten Free Life with Celiac Disease
The medical term for serious gluten intolerance is “celiac disease.” One in every 133 Americans have it to some degree. Gluten intolerance is an autoimmune condition in which gluten, the binding protein found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley, causes serious irritation to the upper gastrointestinal tract. When people with this condition eat grain products, their immune system reacts by attacking the villi, the tiny finger-like structures in the intestines that absorb nutrients. The autoimmune response triggers a harmful chain reaction throughout the body.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease
• Abdominal pain
• Abnormal bowel movements
• Malnutrition and weight loss
• Muscle weakness
• Irritability or depression
• Poor memory and inability to concentrate
• Lactose Intolerance
• Cancer, especially intestinal lymphoma
• Neurological disorders such as seizures and peripheral neuropathy.
If you suspect you may have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, you should see a doctor for testing. In rare cases, other serious diseases can cause similar symptoms. Receiving a definitive diagnosis will give you peace of mind and a green light to begin changing your diet.
Switching to a Gluten Free Diet will Help Quickly
The good news is that 70% of people will improve their symptoms within just two weeks of adopting a gluten free diet. This means avoiding all grain products in favor of vegetables, fruits, legumes and lean proteins. Most dieticians agree that this is a healthier way of eating for anyone, but if you have celiac disease, you will find that as the intestinal lining heals, this way of eating is an excellent means of restoring well being to your body.
If you are gluten intolerant, avoid not only grains, but hidden sources of gluten such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Great non-gluten alternatives will allow you to enjoy baked treats, breads, and pastas without fear or adverse reactions. Corn, quinoa, rice, potato, soy, arrowroot, tapioca, sago, flax, almond flour, and polenta are all easy-to-find baking substitutes. Popcorn is a healthy way to enjoy a crunchy, starchy, non-gluten snack.
Choosing a Non Gluten Lifestyle
If you choose to go gluten free, it may be helpful to see a nutritionist to help you adapt your menus to meet all of your nutritional requirements. Celiac disease often contributes to anemia and malnutrition, so as you recover you will want to replenish your body. Moreover, many gluten-free commercial products do not supply adequate levels of vitamins and minerals. A nutritionist can help you compensate with complementary food choices.
As you adapt to a gluten-free way of life, you’ll enjoy experimenting with new cooking materials and recipes. Support groups and online resources are abundant, and offer a strong sense of community as you embark on a gluten free life journey.