Did you know that upwards of 20 million people in the US may be sensitive to gluten? And it’s estimated that roughly 4 out of 5 people don’t even know it. With the increasing popularity of gluten-free diets it’s important to understand what this is all about.

Gluten is composed of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. It gives structure to these plants, and is responsible for the stretchy quality of dough. There are two groups of people that need to stay away from gluten: those with the autoimmune disorder known as celiac disease, as well as those with the newer classification of non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).  Recent research indicates that they manifest similarly in the body, and carry similar health risks.  In both of these conditions, consuming even a small amount of gluten can trigger an immune response. This causes damage to the absorptive surface of the small intestine and potentially a slew of other symptoms.

Both celiac disease and NCGS can be difficult to diagnose, as a significant number of people have minimal or no symptoms. The symptoms people do experience vary widely.  The most classical symptoms involve the gastrointestinal tract, including gas, bloating, pain, diarrhea, or constipation. But seemingly unrelated complaints can also be attributed to gluten consumption, including depression, anxiety, chronic migraines, chronic fatigue, bone and joint pain, and infertility.

The only treatment for both celiac disease and NCGS is avoidance of gluten in the diet.  Fortunately, as the understanding of gluten-related health conditions has improved, so has the availability of gluten-free foods. Naturally gluten-free foods include eggs, nuts and seeds, meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables. Gluten-free starches include rice, corn, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and flax among others. Most gluten-containing foods like breads and pastas can now be found in gluten-free varieties. But a surprising number of other foods can contain these pesky proteins, like potato chips, processed lunch meats, salad dressings, sauces, and beer.  It is necessary to read labels closely for allergen information to know for sure that a food is gluten-free.

It is possible to develop gluten sensitivity at any point in our lives. Those with a first degree relative (parent, siblings) already diagnosed are more likely to share this trait. If you are concerned, be sure to bring it up with your physician. Gluten free diet plans are available through the portal, and our Nutrition Specialists are available should you need them!