Should My Family Stop Eating Gluten?

Written by Carrie Miller, MS, RD, Extension Educator

My five year old daughter was chewing gum and I asked her where she had gotten it.  She responded, “Don’t worry, it is gluten-free.”  Gluten-free awareness has gotten so great that in addition to my daughter’s awareness, my church is also being gluten sensitive and offering gluten-free bread for communion.

With gluten being in the spotlight does that mean that everyone should stop eating gluten?

Gluten-free eating should not be the goal for everyone, but for those diagnosed with Celiac disease or non-Celiac gluten sensitivity. People with Celiac disease cannot eat foods containing gluten, a protein found in barley, rye, some oats, and wheat. Gluten is also added to many processed foods because it often improves taste and textures. In Celiac disease, the body’s immune system responds to gluten by damaging the lining of the small intestines, making it difficult to absorb essential nutrients. The only treatment for Celiac disease is to eat a gluten-free diet. To determine if someone has Celiac disease: meet with a medical doctor to review symptoms, have a blood test that looks for an increased level of certain autoantibodies, and have a biopsy of the tissue in the small intestine.  Symptoms of Celiac disease vary from person to person. Celiac disease cannot be cured but it can be managed by following a gluten-free diet.

Gluten sensitivity has been coined to describe those individuals who cannot tolerate gluten and experience symptoms similar to those with Celiac disease. However they lack the same antibodies and intestinal damage as seen in Celiac disease.  Gluten sensitivity has been clinically recognized as less severe than Celiac disease. Individuals with gluten sensitivity would not test positive for Celiac disease based on blood testing, nor do they have the same type of intestinal damage found in individuals with Celiac disease. It is also important to know that just because a food is gluten-free, that doesn’t make it a healthy choice. There are many gluten-free processed foods that are high in calories and nutrient empty.

Sources of information: Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, and National Foundation for Celiac Awareness

Helpful Resources:

Gluten-Free Recipes from Nebraska Extension
https://food.unl.edu/fnh/gluten-free

Gluten-Free Grab ‘n Go Snacks
https://food.unl.edu/c/document_library/get_file?uuid=9224c107-7071-4919-bad7-da409ad64599&groupId=4089482

National Foundation for Celiac Awareness
http://www.celiaccentral.org/

Processed Foods That May Contain Gluten
http://www.eatright.org/resource/health/diseases-and-conditions/celiac-disease/processed-foods-and-ingredients-that-may-contain-wheat-rye-and-barley

Eating Gluten-Free on a Budget from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/planning-and-prep/smart-shopping/glutenfree-meals-on-a-budget 

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