The FAQs of gluten-free food

Gluten-free eating has gotten a lot of press in recent years. Movie stars are going gluten-free. These stars appear to convey the look of youth and beauty. If they do it, shouldn’t we all?

Eliminating gluten in the diet is a legitimate way to treat diagnosed diseases including: Celiac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis or non-Celiac gluten sensitivity. For people who are truly diagnosed with these conditions the elimination of gluten containing foods can tremendously improve their lives.

Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disease that is characterized by sensitivity to the proteins found in wheat, barley and rye. Ingesting these grains will damage the finger-like projections (villi) in the small intestine. When the villi become damaged, the body is unable to absorb nutrients, leading to digestive problems (gas, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation) and malnourishment. Celiac disease is treated by eliminating these offending proteins. The best way to diagnose of Celiac disease is by having an endoscopy.

So what about the rest of us? Should we eliminate wheat, barley and rye?

Without a truly diagnosed condition, there may not be an advantage to eliminating wheat. Any time a food group is eliminated, there is the risk of eliminating essential nutrients including B vitamins, iron and fiber. When wheat flour is eliminated in a baked product, a substitute like rice flour is added. Rice flour does not have the same taste or consistency in baked products, so the manufacturer may add additional sugar and fat to improve the taste. Additional sugar and fat can lead to unwanted calories and weight gain over a period of time.

A gluten-free diet should not be started before being properly diagnosed. Starting the diet without complete testing makes diagnosis difficult and is not recommended. Tests to confirm Celiac disease could be inaccurate if a person was on a gluten-free diet for a long period of time prior to the testing.

If you have a diagnosed condition like Celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or dermatitis herpetiformis, check out these resources for more information:

The Christiana Care Department of Family & Community Medicine and ShopRite, as part of the Diabetes Prevention & Care Project, funded by a grant from the Ammon Foundation, is offering a combination of lectures, table displays and tours at all ShopRite store locations throughout Delaware. The free monthly sessions are designed to educate people about making healthy food choices in an ideal classroom setting: the supermarket.

Each month focuses on a certain subject, with topics for the sessions ranging from watching your cholesterol to gluten-free shopping. The October topic is “Celiac’s- Gluten Free Shopping Made Easy.” The lecture will be offered between 5:30 – 7:30 pm on Oct. 3 at ShopRite Brandywine Commons-202, Oct. 8 at ShopRite Newark-Chestnut Plaza, Oct. 10 at ShopRite Christiana Crossing-Wilmington, Oct. 15 at ShopRite Governors Square-Bear, Oct. 17 at ShopRite Four Seasons Shopping Center-Newark, Oct. 21

Your Registered Dietitian is a valuable resource that can guide you through all of the information and help you develop a healthy gluten free meal plan that has variety and is great to eat! For further information on how a Registered Dietitian can help you with an individual meal plan call the Department of Family and Community Medicine, Nutrition Services Department at 302-661-3401.