Would You Like That With or Without Gluten?

The first time I came in contact with somebody who couldn’t have gluten was when my daughter entered Kindergarten. There was this beautiful girl with long hair playing outside while her mom was talking to the teacher. The mom volunteered to make play dough (flour, salt, water and artificial coloring) to be used by the five year-olds for the whole year. Normally a task that different parents volunteered for through the year, and thus my curiosity was aroused. At first site the mother seemed protective of her child and always made her lunch, snacks and birthday treats. On top of that; when the girl was invited for a birthday party she would bring her own Tupperware box filled with pizza and birthday cake.  I wondered what was going on.

When I got to know the girl’s mom and she explained that when her child was one year old she suddenly became very sick and lost a lot of weight. They had almost lost her, until they discovered what bothered her. She had celiac disease. That explained everything.

According to the U.S. National library of Medicine: “Celiac disease is a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy. The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats.” People can develop celiac disease at any time of their life and the cause is unknown. As with other autoimmune diseases, when somebody develops one kind of autoimmune disease others can develop too.  When somebody in the family has celiac disease there is a larger chance more family members will have it, and it mostly concerns women.

Symptoms vary between long term diarrhea, fatigue, being sickly, not tolerating lactose (found in milk), constipation, and other symptoms.  Over time depression, growth delay and mouth ulcers can develop because of long term mineral and vitamin shortage. There is no cure for the disease, but a diet free of gluten will stop the symptoms and the lining of the small intestines will heal over a relative short period of time.

When a person suspects that they have celiac disease it is important that they talk to their doctor before changing anything in their diet to prevent a false negative. A simple blood test or a check of the internal lining of the small intestines can confirm the disease.  If lab results come back positive a consult with a Registered Dietitian will help greatly to make the necessary changes in the diet and refer the patient to support groups. The patient will quickly feel much better and often eat healthier than before, since fruits and vegetables naturally lack gluten and can be consumed freely.

So what about eliminating grains from a diet to lose weight? This might be effective since this might mean that people cut down on eating cookies, crackers, pasta, bread etc. and thus calories. But this also means depriving the body from fiber, minerals, and vitamins such as Folic Acid (important for cell development) and other B-vitamins important for metabolism.

A diet low in fat, high in fiber, fruits and vegetables and physical exercise are associated with sustained weight loss and better health, and is considered a more balanced approach than simply cutting grains. Since grains also contain protein and sugars used by muscles, grains are essential when exercising. Athletes consume lots of grains in order to gain the physical energy they need to perform. Lastly, the consumption of whole grains have been confirmed to show health benefits in areas such as cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease and should not be eliminated from the diet without good reason.

wheat berries, barley and oats

In other words; if you want to improve your health and have no other symptoms consume plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, some protein and dairy if tolerated. If you recognize many of the symptoms summed up for celiac disease; it might be worthwhile to visit your physician.

For more information: Celiac Disease Foundation

About Margreet Adriani

B.S. in dietetics, working toward a career in nutrition through paid and volunteer work at different places while trying to stay current on nutritional research
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