A diagnosis of Celiac Disease (CD) or Gluten Intolerance doesn't mean giving up your favorite foods and treats. Living without gluten is easier than you think.
It used to be an unfamiliar affliction, but now, some estimates say that up to 3 million Americans, about 1 in 100 people, are affected by CD. Even more people deal with Gluten Intolerance, or what is now sometimes called Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, which may affect as many as 1 in 7 people.
Wheat, rye, barley, triticale and spelt contain a protein called glutenin, or gluten. Unfortunately, this protein can be very difficult to digest. For some people, this difficulty leads to a variety of problems. Extreme sensitivity to gluten manifests in CD. Immediate, acute symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping and bloating. More subtle or chronic symptoms include weight loss, irritability (especially in children), depression, and skin problems such as dermatitis and eczema. In people with Gluten Intolerance rather than true CD, symptoms are often less immediate and harder to diagnose. Learn more about diagnosing Celiac Disease.
Why is gluten so problematic? It may simply be that we humans aren't naturally suited to eating wheat. "When wheat was first cultivated, perhaps 10,000 years ago, it was new to the evolutionary food chain for humans. In other words, we didn't naturally evolve as wheat-eaters," says Marc David, author of The Slow Down Diet. "Eating wheat is a mass nutritional experiment, and the results seem to be that it's fine for some and not for others, quite expected in the scheme of things."
Making Sure You Get the Proper Nutrition on a Gluten-Free Diet
Following a gluten-free diet can make it difficult to get all the nutrients you need. Here are some general guidelines.
>> Look for whole-grain or enriched gluten-free grain products to ensure you are getting enough thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, iron and fiber.
>> Try adding flax seed and nut butters to your diet in order to increase your fiber.
>> Beans are a great gluten-free source of protein and fiber.
>> Aim for at least two servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables every day.
>> Choose poultry and fish more often than pork and beef.
Presently, there is no standardization on gluten-free labeling. It is always best to contact the manufacturer of your favorite items and discuss their gluten labeling practices.
If the product says gluten-free, then the product and ingredients have been verified to be gluten-free. Packages will either have a gluten-free statement or a gluten-free symbol (shown below).
The Gluten-Free Certification Program
The Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) is a program of The Gluten Intolerance Group®, also known as GIG®, and is a 501(c3) non-profit organization. GFCO is the only gluten-free certification program in the world.
GFCO provides an independent service to supervise gluten-free food production according to a consistent, defined, science-based standard that is confirmed by field inspections in order to achieve heightened consumer confidence and safety. GFCO's Scientific and Professional Board review the practices of GFCO. GFCO inspects products for gluten and does not certify products for any other potential allergens.
The GF logo stands for the independent verification of quality, integrity and purity of products. Products carrying the GF logo present unmatched reliability for meeting strict gluten-free standards. Currently, 6,000 products have met the standards for being Certified Gluten-Free.
>> Remember that wheat-free does not necessarily mean gluten-free.
>> Gluten can be found in additives, seasonings and other ingredients present in food.
>> Ingredients and suppliers change, which means items that are presently gluten-free may contain gluten later.
>> Labels that state, “Made with Gluten-Free Ingredients” are not necessarily gluten-free. Cross contamination can occur in certain situations. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer.
Identifying Gluten in the Ingredients
>> When reading ingredient lists, remember that all items contained in the product must be listed. For example, if a can of green beans states, “green beans, water and salt,” those are the only ingredients contained in the product.
>> The eight common allergens: wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish, must be called out on the ingredient panel.
>> If there is no ingredient list, then the only ingredient is the product itself.
>> Sometimes you will see the term “natural flavors” in the ingredient list. Natural flavors may contain gluten. When you see the term “natural flavors” listed in the ingredients, you should check the gluten status of the product with the manufacturer.
>> Ingredients such as artificial flavors and pure spices do not contain gluten.
>> View Gluten-Free Product Overview