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Food Allergy Awareness Week: Is gluten that bad?

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Gluten avoidance is all the rage now. Odds are you know at least one person that has a gluten free diet. In fact, gluten free food sales have increased dramatically over the past few years to reach annual sales of approximately $2 billion. This sales trend is surprising since gluten free foods come at a premium price, and are often not as tasty as their counterparts. Is gluten truly that bad for us?

In order to answer this question, we need to understand just what gluten is.

Gluten is actually a protein, one most people associate with wheat alone. However it is actually found in three grains, wheat, rye, and barley, and depending on the growing techniques, oats. This protein is the “glu(e)” that provides bread with the delicious doughy texture we all enjoy, which means gluten free breads are often more dry and crumbly. (Spectrum Health blogs)

Gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease
Gluten is the enemy for people with a gluten intolerance or Celiac's Disease. People with these diagnosis are unable to digest gluten normally. This is a serious condition that can cause malnutrition and intestinal damage if gluten is not taken out of the diet. People suffering from Celiac's disease may experience bloating, skin rash, delayed growth, headaches, diarrhea, depression, or joint pain from eating gluten. If you are wondering whether you have Celiac's disease, take this online Celiac Symptoms Checklist quiz and make an appointment with your doctor. If you test negative for Celiac's disease but experience flu-like symptoms after eating foods containing gluten, you may have a gluten intolerance which is a less severe diagnosis but also requires gluten avoidance.

Wheat allergy
Is gluten to blame for wheat allergies? No, gluten and wheat are not the same thing. Gluten is a protein found in wheat products, but also in many other products as well. Wheat allergies are caused by an overreaction of the immune system to wheat protein in the body. Like other food allergies, symptoms of a wheat allergy can range from mild hives to severe swelling of the throat and difficulty breathing.

While a person with a gluten sensitivity cannot eat any foods containing wheat, a person with a wheat allergy may be able to eat certain grains or proteins not allowed for people with a gluten intolerance. Unfortunately, a person could have both a wheat allergy and Celiac disease. (3fatchicks)

Weight loss and Nutrition
There is a popular misconception that a gluten free diet will help you lose weight. This may account for some of the gluten free trend happening at the moment. While cutting out excessive amounts of carbohydrates from your diet can help curb weight gain, changing to gluten free foods will not do the trick alone. Gluten free does not mean fat free or even nutritious.

Gluten itself doesn’t offer special nutritional benefits. But the many whole grains that contain gluten do. They’re rich in an array of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron, as well as fiber. Studies show that whole grain foods, as part of a healthy diet, may help lower risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that half of all carbohydrates in the diet come from whole grain products. To be sure, a few whole grains don’t contain gluten, including amaranth, millet, and quinoa. But they are far less common than gluten-containing grains. Meeting the dietary guidelines goal is very tough if you have to eliminate wheat, barley, rye, kamut, and other gluten-containing whole grains. (Web MD)

Gluten is not bad for everyone. In fact, if you do not have a gluten intolerance or Celiac's disease, foods containing gluten could be a part of a healthy diet for you.

However, for those with gluten sensitivities, gluten free options are becoming more widely available. Here are some local gluten free options that have been recommended to me.

If you have have a gluten free West Michigan recommendation, please comment below.

It is Food Allergy Awareness Week, check back for allergen specific articles each day.

Tuesday 13th - Egg

Wednesday 14th - Milk

Thursday 15th - Peanut/Tree Nuts

Friday 16th - Fish/Shellfish

Follow me on @GRallergieshttps://twitter.com/GRallergies

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