Gluten-free eating habits growing |

Gluten-free eating habits growing

Gluten: friend or foe? That is the question a lot of people are asking these days. Following a gluten-free lifestyle has been moving into the spotlight for some time now. Reasons for do so vary widely. A celiac disease diagnosis, relief for persistent gastrointestinal distress and weight loss are just a few. If you’ve ever ventured into gluten-free territory then you have an idea of just how confusing it can be at times.

This past October I attended the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food Nutrition Conference and Expo in Houston, Texas and I learned some new information about gluten I’d like to pass on to you. I hope that you or someone you love will find it helpful.

The most common reason I counsel people to eliminate gluten from their diet is when they are diagnosed with celiac disease. It is estimated that one out of every 133 Americans may have celiac disease with 80% of them currently undiagnosed. Why so many? This is because the disease does not have the same symptoms for everyone. The stereotypical thin person with abdominal pain has been put to rest. Unrelated gastrointestinal symptoms of celiac disease can include early osteoporosis, anemia, and infertility. Obesity is also present in 40 percent of cases.

Another condition people my suffer from is called Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NSGS). This is a condition that is clinically different from celiac disease but is associated with a gluten-induced activation of innate immune response that produces similar symptoms. NSGS is still being studied and not very well understood at this time. If you suspect this may be a problem for you, consider avoiding gluten for a period of time and see if your symptoms improve.

If you haven’t ventured into the gluten-free world for fear of spending hours researching foods and losing your mind, help is out there. The FDA has approved gluten free labeling laws that regulate what foods may claim to be gluten-free. Unfortunately, it doesn’t eliminate the need to read ingredient labels since it is a voluntary program. However, it is beneficial in that manufacturers who choose to tout the lack of gluten in their products must now adhere to regulated guidelines.

The National foundation for Celiac Awareness has a great website at with information, resources, news, and education to help you wade through the gluten free jungle.

If you’re eliminating gluten from your diet for other reasons such as weight loss or other health benefit, keep in mind that gluten is not toxic for everyone. There is no evidence to support gluten-free diets are an effective weight loss plan.

Gluten-free does not always mean healthy. Many of these foods can be higher in fat, calories and sugar than the food they’re replacing. They may also be devoid of the vitamins and/or minerals that were refined out, leaving behind empty calories.

The session I attended was sponsored by SoyJoy and presented by Rachel Begun, MS, RDN. Her website is and her blog is The Gluten Free RD. I highly recommend you check them out.

Mary is a clinical dietitian at Banner Churchill Community Hospital and consultant for Pershing General Hospital. Your nutrition questions are welcome — send questions to Mary C. Koch, R.D. in care of this newspaper.