Q. I am hearing a lot about the gluten-free diet lately. Is this something I should consider for my family?
A. Gluten is bit of a hot button issue these days. Gluten-free diets are reported on in the news and you’ve probably noticed the rapid expansion of gluten-free sections in the grocery store. It’s only natural to wonder if this is something that you and your family should consider.
Q. What is gluten?
A. Gluten is a protein naturally found in wheat, rye, barley, and foods or products made with these grains. It provides the texture and flavor in moist, fluffy breads and cakes. Bread, pasta, cereal and soup are common foods that often contain gluten. And while gluten is not found in oats, it is often added during processing. Avoiding gluten completely can be harder than it sounds because it is used in many products you might not expect, like soy sauce and medicines. The only way to know if foods are gluten free is to read the label. Please note that gluten is not likely to be listed on the ingredients list, so look for gluten containing foods like wheat or rye. You may also look for foods with “gluten free” on the product label. The term “gluten-free” is regulated by the FDA, so the product must comply with their guidelines to have this label.
Q. Who should consider a gluten-free diet?
A. From a medical perspective, the two conditions that will benefit from a gluten-free diet are celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease is a condition where the body creates an immune response to gluten, which results in damage to the intestine. When people who have celiac disease eat gluten, they often experience abdominal bloating and pain, diarrhea, and fatigue. People who have gluten sensitivity may also experience these symptoms, but will not have the immune response and intestinal damage that celiac disease causes. Outside of these conditions, there are no benefits associated with eating a gluten free diet, and avoiding grains completely can cause children to miss out on important nutrients like B vitamins and fiber.
Q. Why are you hearing so much about gluten-free diets?
A. Celiac disease is on the rise in the United States. According to the Mayo Clinic, since 1950 the incidence of this disease has increased fourfold. Gluten-free diets have become a topic a conversation primarily due to the rising awareness of Celiac disease and gluten’s effect on the intestinal system, but also because of our country’s fondness for fad diets. If your child is not having problems with gluten containing foods, there is no need to worry! If you are concerned that your child may be reacting to the gluten in foods or other products, call your doctor to receive further guidance.