You hear a lot in the popular media about the benefits of going gluten-free, but going gluten-free will only benefit you if you have celiac disease or a gluten allergy or sensitivity. Otherwise, most of the gluten-free packaged foods you’ll find are highly refined (often made from white rice and tapioca flour), low in fiber, sometimes high in sugar, and not particularly great for you.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. It’s estimated that around 1% of Americans have celiac disease—an autoimmune disorder in which eating gluten leads the body to attack its own tissues, destroying the villi that line the intestine and make possible nutrient absorption. The disease can manifest in various ways, and may not even present with intestinal symptoms (details at celiac.org). It leads to malnutrition and a host of other ailments, and if you have reason to suspect you’re celiac, you need to see a GI right away. The doctor may order bloodwork as well as an endoscopy to check your intestines, and if there is a suspicion of celiac disease, you will be taken off gluten for 2-4 weeks to see if your symptoms improve. If you are scheduled to see a GI, do not go off gluten prior to your appointment! They need to test and examine you in your current condition, eating a regular diet. [Read more…]