Gluten-Free Q & A
My friend recently started on a gluten-free diet. What does that mean?
More than likely, your friend was recently diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune condition that causes intestinal damage when gluten (the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye) is eaten. Because it is an autoimmune condition, it is different from a food allergy.
Untreated, celiac disease can lead to many short-term and long-term medical problems. Currently, the only treatment is to follow a strict, gluten-free diet for life. Current thinking is that 1 in 133 people may have this condition. Risk is higher when other family members are diagnosed.
Some people may follow a gluten-free diet for other reasons. Gluten intolerance may exist with other diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia. Gluten intolerance is a less well-understood condition, and no real tests exist to determine if someone is intolerant.
What do people on gluten-free diets eat?
People on gluten-free diets eat many of the same foods you do. Naturally gluten-free foods include meat, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, and more).
Many new gluten-free foods that are not naturally gluten free are now available. These are foods that are made safe, such as gluten-free brownies, cakes, and pretzels. Instead of focusing on what people cannot have on a gluten-free diet, it is more encouraging to focus on what they can eat.
I think I might have gluten intolerance. Should I go ahead and try the diet and see if I feel better?
If you eventually would like to have the test to diagnose celiac disease or if you strongly suspect that you have it, then you may want to have the test for celiac disease first. Starting the gluten-free diet before testing actually can alter your test results. If you already have started the gluten-free diet and/or are not interested in celiac testing, then it is OK to continue and see if your symptoms improve. Keep in mind that it can take several days or weeks to feel better on a gluten-free diet.
Will a gluten-free diet help me lose weight?
The benefits of a gluten-free diet for weight loss have received much press. By severely limiting your consumption of breads and pasta, you may see weight loss related more to eating fewer calories from these foods. However, reducing gluten in your diet on its own typically does not lead to weight loss. In fact, consuming more gluten-free junk foods, such as brownies, cakes, and cookies, actually may lead to weight gain.
My sister has celiac disease, and I am pretty sure I do too. I am afraid of what the test will show. What should I do?
You may have a difficult time deciding whether or not to go through with testing for celiac disease. It may frighten you to think about needing to change your diet, but it is important to remember that ignoring the issue is not going to improve it. Getting proper testing and diagnosis can put you back on the road to feeling better and having improved health. Patients who follow a gluten-free diet feel so much better that they usually do not want to go back to how they felt before starting the diet.
I recently was diagnosed with gluten intolerance/celiac disease. What do I need to do now?
First of all, find a doctor who truly understands the condition and how to best monitor your situation. Your family doctor may or may not have a good understanding of celiac disease. Do not hesitate to ask for a referral to a gastrointestinal (GI) specialist. Your family doctor and the specialist can work as a team to help you. Make sure to ask for a referral to a dietitian experienced in celiac disease (not all are unfortunately), and then find local help in the form of a support group.
The Internet also has great resources for support, such as online forums and chats. Visit reputable sites such as the Celiac Disease Foundation (www.celiac.org) or Gluten Intolerance Group (www.gluten.net).