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Gluten free: preference or necessity?

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“Gluten free” diets are all the rage lately. Grocery stores have added “gluten-free” aisles. Nearly every restaurant advertises its gluten-free menu. Universities have gluten-free sections of their convenience stores. Gluten-free eating has become such a widespread trend that there’s even a gluten-free Girl Scout Cookie.

For many people, gluten-free eating is a fad. For people like me with Celiac Disease, it’s a necessity.

According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, only 1 in 133 Americans are diagnosed with Celiac Disease, a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and restricts the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. People who have the disease cannot tolerate any gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. For those of us with Celiac Disease, we must stick to the gluten-free diet or suffer the consequences, which may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation and weight fluctuation to name just a few.

The gluten-free fad presents several problems. For people without Celiac Disease, the gluten-free diet is not medically indicated. Unnecessary gluten-free dieting may lead to an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating (a condition coined as “orthorexia”) or a number of other eating disorders. A moderate amount of gluten-containing whole grains may be a normal and healthy part of typical diet. If you have “gone gluten-free” and do not have a medically-diagnosed gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease, consider the spirit behind your diet choice. Take care to approach your diet with your ultimate health and wellness in mind. Consider consulting with a registered dietitian to establish your optimal nutrition plan.

For people with Celiac Disease, the gluten-free fad creates a misperception that “gluten-free” is a preference, not a necessity. Many times, I’ve gone to a restaurant and eaten a supposedly gluten-free meal that included hidden, gluten-containing ingredients, like soy sauce. I felt terribly sick the next day. Restaurants commonly misperceive “gluten-free” as a request, and don’t take the time to check up on all of their ingredients, especially condiments and sauces. For those of us with Celiac Disease, these small slip ups have a big impact on our health.

If you’re on the gluten-free bandwagon, but don’t have Celiac Disease, consult with a registered dietitian and be sure to specify your “gluten-free” request as a dietary preference rather than a medical necessity. If you think you may have Celiac Disease, talk to your doctor.

What are your thoughts on the gluten-free lifestyle? Share your experience in the comments below.

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