“A lot of people I know are cutting gluten out of their diets. How can I tell if I’m gluten-intolerant?”
Gluten-free diets have gained a lot of attention lately, becoming a staple diet for many people. Just walk into a grocery store and you will see an abundance of food items labeled “Gluten-Free”. In fact it’s so popular, you may have wondered if you need to go gluten free yourself.
Gluten is a common protein found in wheat, rye, barley, bulgur and semolina. It is also hidden in many products like condiments, soups, ice cream, and even non-dairy creamer. For a lot of people, gluten does not cause any health problems. But for those with a form of intolerance, life can be pretty miserable until you make the needed diet changes.
There are a several reasons why someone should choose a gluten free lifestyle and it’s important to first understand the three main types of gluten-related conditions: Celiac disease, wheat allergy and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Celiac is defined as an autoimmune disorder directly affected by the protein, gluten. After digesting the protein, the immune system reacts by damaging intestinal villi, causing severe discomfort and malabsorption of many essential nutrients. A lifelong, gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac individuals.
A wheat allergy is an allergic reaction to one or all of the proteins found in wheat-containing foods, not just gluten. This differs from celiac disease because there is not a problem with absorption of nutrients. Damage to the intestines does not occur in wheat allergies. Both conditions, celiac disease and wheat allergy, are confirmed through blood and biopsy tests performed by your doctor.
Gluten sensitivity is a term used for individuals who experience gastrointestinal symptoms (without the autoimmune response) after eating gluten. Common symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, fatigue, headache, mood changes, joint and muscle pain, arm or leg numbness and dermatitis. Unfortunately, there are no medical tests to diagnosis non-celiac gluten sensitivity; it is usually indicated once celiac and non-wheat related conditions are ruled out. It then becomes simpler — if the individual follows a gluten-free diet and the symptoms cease to exist, it’s likely a gluten sensitivity.
Since diagnosing gluten-related disorders is difficult, if you are experiencing common symptoms, see a doctor and registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in this area. The accurate and easy way to test gluten-sensitivity is to follow a gluten-free diet for a minimum of 3 weeks. If symptoms improve, proceed with the gluten challenge by introducing gluten back into your diet slowly. A gluten-sensitivity is likely confirmed if the symptoms come back within hours or a few days.
If you are considering a gluten-free diet, do not rely solely on “gluten-free” labeled food items. Take a moment to think about whole foods that are naturally gluten free, like vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, most dairy products, beans and unprocessed nuts and seeds. Eating gluten free can be healthy and delicious! Consuming a variety of foods will supply necessary vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy body.
Quick Chickpea Curry (check curry paste to ensure it is GF)
Jenna is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. More importantly, she is a mom to 2 littleboys and wife to a football coach. She shares real life strategies for better health and doable and delicious recipes on her site Make Healthy Easy at www.JennaBraddock.com. She is active on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, sharing her real life antics.
- Elli L, Branchi F, Tomba C, et al. Diagnosis of gluten related disorders: Celiac disease, wheat allergy and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. World Journal of Gastroenterology : WJG. 2015;21(23):7110-7119. doi:10.3748/wjg.v21.i23.7110.
- Catassi C, Bai JC, Bonaz B, Bouma G, Calabrò A, Carroccio A, Castillejo G, Ciacci C, Cristofori F, Dolinsek J, et al. Non-Celiac Gluten sensitivity: the new frontier of gluten related disorders. Nutrients. 2013;5:3839–3853.