Going Gluten Free

If it’s right for you, here’s how to change your diet

With the growing awareness of celiac disease, there’s been a lot of media attention on gluten-free diets. Those with celiac have to avoid gluten because it damages the small intestine. Others, however, may want to think twice before jumping on this nutritional bandwagon.

“Following a gluten-free diet is extensive and expensive, and I would always recommend getting diagnosed by a gastroenterologist before starting this and not self-diagnosing,” says registered dietitian Amanda Saldivar.

Celiac is a genetic disease with varying symptoms that range from abdominal pain to depression. Irritability is one of the most common symptoms in children, and some people have no symptoms at all.

Certain diseases and conditions, such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid disease, are associated with celiac. If there’s any question that you have celiac, it’s important to find out for sure. “People who go undiagnosed have several malabsorption issues, and they would want to be tested for possible deficiencies,” says Ms. Saldivar. “Calcium and iron are two common deficiencies associated with celiac disease.”

But don’t change your diet before testing, she says. “If someone is gluten intolerant and has been following a gluten-free diet before getting tested, the results could produce a false negative and lead to misdiagnosis.”

If gluten intolerance is an issue for you, here’s what Ms. Saldivar suggests:

  • Start with fresh, unprocessed foods and shop the outer perimeter of the grocery store – produce, fresh meat and dairy.
  • Stay educated by researching the ingredients on labels. “Manufacturers can change their products without notification,” Ms. Saldivar says. “There are many foods people do not think as obvious sources of gluten: salad dressing, frosting, soup, seasoning mixes and fruit drinks. This is not an exhaustive list, but shows how aware people with celiac disease have to be with their food choices.”
  • Learn to make your own breads and pastas. “Gluten-free substitutes such as bread, pastas and sweets can be expensive, and some patients have really honed their cooking skills at home rather than paying $5 for a loaf of bread.” There are numerous cookbooks, support groups, magazines and reputable websites available to those who have celiac, she says, adding that one highly recommended cookbook is The Gluten Free Gourmet: Living Well Without Wheat by Bette Hagman.

Ms. Saldivar recommends the Celiac Disease Foundation as an excellent resource for people embarking on a gluten-free lifestyle.

“The good news is that because gluten intolerance is becoming so prevalent, manufacturers, retailers and even restaurants are providing more gluten-free varieties. Also, these foods have made dramatic improvements in their taste,” she says. “People with celiac should see a registered dietitian who specializes in the disease to help monitor the appropriateness of their diet and to help them navigate through the amount of information that may seem overwhelming.”

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