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What Does It Mean to Be Gluten-Free?

A quick glimpse at gluten-free diets and celiac disease.

Recently, I had the opportunity to fly back to my home state of Washington and visit some wonderful family friends, Ross and MaryAnn Frank. They own and operate a beautiful farm in Leavenworth, WA where their property features hay and sleigh rides, cabin rentals, weddings, and catered company or family events. In my conversation with MaryAnn, she talked about her efforts to provide options for dinner guests who need gluten-free food. It was in that moment that I asked myself, do I really know what it means to have a gluten intolerance?

Gluten intolerance is also commonly known as celiac disease, which according to the Mayo Clinic is “a digestive condition triggered by consumption of the protein gluten, which is primarily found in bread, pasta, cookies, pizza crust and many other foods containing wheat, barley, or rye.” The challenge with this condition is that there are some people who have celiac disease and others who test negative for the disease but still exhibit symptoms from eating gluten. These people may have what is called a gluten sensitivity.

Whether you have a sensitivity or the disease symptoms can range from mild diarrhea, to weakness, bone pain, weight loss, abdominal pain and bloating. Often times, these symptoms can be diagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome. This is why it is important to work with your doctor and get tested for celiac disease, which can be done through a blood test or biopsy of the small intestine.

People who want to follow a gluten-free diet need to focus their diet on eating the unprocessed forms of beans, nuts, seeds, fresh eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats and fish. Foods you should avoid are anything with barley, wheat, rye, and triticale. Many foods that are gluten-free will put the label right on the front, but you should always check the ingredients, especially if you are purchasing a new type of food.

Because of the restricted diet, it’s a good idea to work with a dietitian to make sure you are not getting malnourished. Your doctor or nutritionist may suggest taking supplements like calcium, vitamin K, iron, and folate.  

In the meantime, if you suspect you have a gluten issue check with your doctor and get tested so you know how to proceed.

How do you handle a gluten-free diet?

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