Should You Go Gluten-Free?

In the past few years, gluten-free diets and products have become more prevalent than ever. With rumors of increased energy and concentration and cures to digestion issues – it’s hard not to think that you too may benefit from a gluten-free diet.  As a registered dietitian, I work with bariatric patients at Indiana University Health, to help them lose weight in preparation for surgery. In addition to being followed by a team, patients also receive individualized nutrition counseling post-operatively. We work together to identify barriers and solutions throughout their weight loss journey. This includes sifting through the many nutrition myths and messages set forth by the public.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a type of protein that is found in specific grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. It is found in pastas, breads, pastries, cereals, beer, and many other processed foods.  Gluten is harmless except to those diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder, meaning even just the smallest tidbit of gluten can wreak havoc on the intestines. When the body begins to attack itself, damage is done to the intestine, leading to impaired nutrient absorption and gastrointestinal distress. This might be made apparent through symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, and weight loss or gain. If not treated, celiac disease can result in even more disorders such as osteoporosis, anemia, and neurological issues. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity seems to be much more prevalent than celiac disease, ‘affecting an estimated 18 million Americans,’ according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This too also involves an autoimmune response to gluten; however no damaging antibodies are produced.  While someone with this sensitivity may experience symptoms similar to celiac, they will suffer from the same damage of the intestinal wall, nutrient absorption, or other long term problems.

How Do I Know What’s Right for Me?

If you suspect you have celiac or gluten sensitivity, reach out to your primary care physician to get tested before going gluten-free. If you decide to go gluten-free, then later get tested, they will be unable to determine if your diet is causing the issues. If you are considering gluten-free for other health reasons, keep in mind that gluten is found in many foods. Restricting your diet may cause you to miss out on essential B vitamins. Aim to incorporate a variety of all food groups in your diet:  vegetables, fruits, protein, dairy, and grains.  If you do find that you need to be gluten-free, find a registered dietitian nutritionist to help you create a plan to keep you healthy and happy.

-- By Katie Hake, RD
   Indiana University Health


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