Is a gluten-free diet safe?

In recent years, more people have taken on a gluten-free diet, believing that avoiding gluten is healthier or could help them lose weight. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley, and rye. There is no current data that suggests the general public should maintain a gluten-free diet for better health or weight loss. Gluten-free diets are not necessarily healthier due to the fact that gluten-free foods may not provide enough of the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals the body needs including fiber, iron, and calcium.

A gluten-free diet is only recommended for people diagnosed with celiac disease.

So what is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is a digestive disorder that damages the small intestine. If you have celiac disease, you may experience bloating, diarrhea, constipation, gas, pale and foul-smelling or fatty stools that float, and vomiting. These symptoms are often more common in children than adults. Adults are less likely to have digestive symptoms and instead may have: anemia, a red, smooth, shiny tongue, depression or anxiety, headaches, infertility or repeated miscarriages, missed menstrual periods, seizures, tiredness, and weak and brittle bones. Some people with celiac disease have no symptoms at all. Sometimes, health issues like surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, bacterial gastroenteritis, viral infection, or severe mental stress can trigger celiac disease symptoms.

Diagnosis

Celiac disease can be hard to diagnose because some of the symptoms are similar to those of other diseases like irritable bowel syndrome and lactose intolerance. Celiac disease can be diagnosed by your doctor after he or she takes a medical and family history and conducts a physical exam and tests. During the physical exam, your doctor will check for a rash that can arise when you don’t get enough vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you need, leading to malnutrition. Your doctor will also listen to sounds in your abdomen with a stethoscope and tap on your abdomen to check for pain and fullness or swelling. Tests may include blood tests, genetic tests, and biopsy.

Treatment

Celiac disease can be treated with a gluten-free diet. Symptoms will greatly improve in most people with celiac disease who stick to a gluten-free diet. Many stores and restaurants have added many more gluten-free foods and products to make it easier. Following a gluten-free diet will heal damage in the small intestine and prevent more damage for most people. The small intestine can usually be healed in 3-6 months with a gluten-free diet in children; however, it may take years for adults’ small intestines to heal.

Eating, Diet, and Nutrition

Avoiding foods with gluten is critical in treating celiac disease. Many of these foods include cereal, grains, and pasta, as well as many processed foods. Be sure to always read food ingredient lists carefully to make sure there is no gluten included. Foods like meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, rice, and potatoes without additives or seasonings containing gluten are part of a well-balanced diet. You can also eat gluten-free types of bread, pasta, and other foods that are now easier to find in stores and restaurants. You may also eat potato, rice, soy, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat or bean flour instead of wheat flour when cooking or baking.

Gluten sensitivity or wheat intolerance

Gluten sensitivity or wheat intolerance is different than celiac disease; however, some of the symptoms are the same including tiredness and stomach aches. Gluten sensitivity can also cause symptoms like muscle cramps and leg numbness, but it does not damage the small intestine like celiac disease.

 

Sources: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases & Medline Plus