You might be wondering why more people are diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. From my research, a number of reasons emerged. Americans are eating significantly more processed foods, most of which contain gluten, than they ever have in the past — coupled with faster-paced, multi-tasking lifestyles. Both of these factors compromise the digestive system. In addition, doctors are more aware of these digestive disorders and are testing more frequently for them.

The following are some common questions about gluten sensitivity.

What’s the difference between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity?
Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are managed similarly, in that people with these conditions must or should remove gluten from their diet. It’s important to note, however, that there is a difference between these two medical problems. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition, where the body’s immune system attacks normal tissue, such as the intestinal villi, in response to eating gluten. Because of this, people with celiac disease are at risk for malabsorption of food in the GI tract, resulting in nutritional deficiencies. However, a person with gluten sensitivity usually does not have severe intestinal damage, thus he or she is not at risk for these nutritional deficiencies, but they may have mild-to-severe digestive discomfort such as bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, or cramping.

What is gluten?
Gluten is a glue-like protein found naturally occurring in wheat, spelt, kamut, barley, rye and sometimes oats (oats are often contaminated with gluten). Also, keep in mind that white flour is simply refined wheat flour. Gluten is one of the most complex proteins consumed by man. It has very large molecules relative to other food molecules and for this reason it’s difficult for the human digestive system to metabolize.

How do I get tested for celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?
You can ask your doctor for a blood test and/or intestinal biopsy to determine if you have celiac disease. Keep in mind that you could still be gluten sensitive and not have celiac disease. An effective way to identify non-celiac gluten sensitivity is to do an elimination diet. Take gluten completely out of your diet for 7 days (you must be strict with this) and introduce it heavily on the 8th day. If you are symptom free, then you aren’t sensitive to gluten.

How can I benefit from a gluten-free diet?
If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, it is imperative for your health to eliminate gluten. If you’d like to be gluten-free simply to improve your health, you may experience the following benefits: better cholesterol levels, improved digestion, more energy, clearer thinking and weight loss. These benefits are based on eating gluten-free, whole, natural foods, not packaged “gluten-free foods.” If you don’t have gluten sensitivity, much of the value of introducing a whole foods, gluten-free diet is coming from improving your diet in general.

How can I reduce or eliminate gluten from my diet?
Below is a list of whole foods that are naturally gluten-free. As I teach my clients, the most important indicator of whether a food is right for you is how your body feels after eating it. No perfect way of eating works for everyone. Listen closely for your body’s messages.

  • All vegetables
  • Gluten-free whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, millet & buckwheat
  • Plant-based protein sources such as beans, tofu, tempeh & nuts
  • Grass-fed animal protein
  • All fruits

There are many delicious ways to prepare the foods listed above. For example, adding flavorful herbs and spices enhance a meal’s overall appeal. If you need inspiration, visit www.wholefoodsmarket.com for natural, gluten-free recipes.  Also, check out my gluten-free, dairy-free, whole food recipes every month in Edge magazine.

Gradually introducing natural, gluten-free foods is a great way to improve your health. I don’t recommend someone without a gluten sensitivity to make extreme changes in their diet; however, making consistent, wholesome food choices over time is a sustainable way to improve your health.

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Maggie Christopher is a certified holistic nutrition counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist. She combines the wisdom of whole foods nutrition along with emotionally-based therapy to support individuals in uncovering and healing the root causes of their cravings. She provides a safe environment to explore the emotional reasons for the eating habits that prevent you from reaching your health goals. She offers step-by-step guidance and delicious recipes that support you in introducing whole natural foods that promote health, calm cravings and allow you to feel satisfied. For a free nutrition consultation, visit her website or call.

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