Celiac Disease and Gluten Free Diets

With all of the talk about gluten free foods and celiac disease, it may have you asking a few questions. Questions like “Is a gluten free diet healthier?” or “Am I at risk for developing a gluten allergy?” are all great questions to ask, and will be addressed in this article.

Celiac disease, also known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is a small intestinal disorder caused by an autoimmune response to the ingestion of gluten by people who are genetically predisposed to the disease. This disease is not always present at birth. In fact, most people are diagnosed with the disorder in their 20’s or 30’s. The condition can be triggered or unmasked later in life by GI surgery, stress, pregnancy, or viral infections. When a person develops the disease, gluten can no longer be digested by GI enzymes, and an inflammatory response occurs that can eventually result in damage to the villi and intestinal mucosa. The extent of damage varies greatly, and each case is handled differently. Common side effects of celiac disease include diarrhea, abdominal bloating, and fatigue. Though these are typical symptoms that may occur, 50 % of patients may have few or no obvious symptoms. It is estimated that 1 in 133 persons in the U.S. has celiac disease, and prevalence is higher in people with a family history of the disease. If you are experiencing symptoms, both dietitians and doctors recommend that you omit foods containing gluten from your diet for a few days. Foods containing gluten include wheat, rye, barley, and oats.  If symptoms improve when avoiding these foods, visit your doctor and ask to be tested for the disease.

As you can see, avoiding gluten is necessary for those that have a gluten allergy, but if you are not affected by it, keep eating things with gluten! There has been a lot of false information that has lead people to believe that a gluten free diet is healthier, but this is far from true. Foods containing gluten (wheat, rye, barley, and oats) are all healthy whole grains that are necessary for a healthy diet. They contain the fiber that our bodies need on a daily basis in order to function properly. If you do suffer from celiac disease, you will need to use other grains in cooking that do not contain gluten. Examples of common substitutes include corn, potatoes, rice, soybean, quinoa, and buckwheat. Depending on each individual’s situation, certain vitamins and minerals may need to be taken in supplement form to make up for the malabsorption that often comes with celiac disease. I hope this cleared up any questions you may have had about celiac disease or a gluten free diet!

-Lauren Shadle, Intern at Stacey Schulman Nutrition