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Find out why people without an allergy can benefit from a gluten-free diet

Lauren Cassandra is a nutritionist and personal trainer at PTP of Ridgefield

It seems that "gluten-free" pops up everywhere we look these days. From your grocery store to restaurants, to our very own Swoon Bakery, one can find themselves with plenty of GF options to choose from. What exactly does "gluten-free" mean though? Is it a necessity or a choice to live this way?

There are many people with a true gluten allergy, otherwise known as Celiac Disease, and then there are ones who are gluten-sensitive. People with Celiac Disease suffer from many symptoms such as gas, bloating, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhea. Over time, they have malabsorption issues, muscular pain, and joint and bone discomfort. Celiac Disease is a real concern. If you suspect you have it, a gastroenterologist can confirm with a blood test and tissue biopsy. Gluten-sensitive people also have unpleasant side effects, but they are less severe and usually not life-threatening.

So why is it that celebrities say they are on a gluten-free diet, but then major athletes tote they just stopped eating wheat to feel better. Does "gluten-free" mean "wheat-free" and can you follow a wheat-free diet but still have gluten? There are so many questions, and hopefully I can help sort out some of the confusion.

Gluten is a protein found in several foods like wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, and sprouted wheat. It is also used as an additive in many different food products, to act as a binder. It is extremely irritating to the digestive tract and this is why many people avoid it. If someone is following a wheat-free diet, they are usually still eating the above mentioned grains except wheat itself. These are less processed foods and easier on digestion. If someone is following a gluten-free diet, they must avoid ALL products that contain gluten.

The question still remains: "If you do not have Celiac Disease, is it beneficial to follow a gluten-free diet?" My answer to that is yes, but you may not have to be so strict. Some people who are gluten-sensitive can tolerate grains with a lower gluten content. They are higher in fiber, protein, and nutrients and a better choice than wheat. Whether or not this works for you can be determined by keeping a symptomatic diet diary and then meeting with a nutritionist to discuss.

Unfortunately, the wheat we eat today is not at all like the wheat that was around 100 years ago. It has been crossbred, genetically modified, and planted on less-than-adequate soil. The plants are shorter than they used to be and have a large seed head, which gives it a higher gluten content than in the past. This creates a product that is extremely inflammatory to the body and when consumed for years in large amounts can actually cause a gluten sensitivity and in some, Celiac Disease.

I personally follow and recommend to everyone, a gluten-free diet. Clinically, I have seen patients lose weight, decrease inflammation in their joints, stop irritable bowel syndrome, decrease asthmatic symptoms, and get complete relief of acid reflux.

I encourage clients to avoid all wheat and limit rye, barley, oats, and spelt. Gluten-free friendly grains, such as quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, millet, and wild rice are recommended.

Lauren Cassandra ND, MS, HFS, USATL1

Trainer/Nutritionist

Personal Training Professionals of Ridgefield

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