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Gluten-Free: Is it for Me? Before I begin answering this often-asked question, it is probably a good idea to define gluten. Gluten is simply a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It is not a chemical additive nor is it a hormone, food coloring or genetically altered food item. Gluten is an all-natural substance and should not be confused with artificial food additives. When someone goes “gluten-free," they eliminate all gluten from their diet, which is often found in bread, pasta, cereal, salad dressing and many processed foods.
There are many explanations for why people eliminate gluten in their diet; however the most vital reason is celiac disease. People with celiac disease must completely eliminate gluten from their diet in order to live a healthy life. In fact, the only cure for celiac disease is to follow a gluten-free diet. If this diet is not followed, the small intestine will not be able to absorb nutrients properly and the individual will have symptoms such as growth delays, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and severe gastrointestinal stress. Celiac disease is not uncommon; it affects about one out of every 133 people. Celiac disease can be diagnosed through blood tests and small intestine biopsies.
What about everybody else? Is there a reason to follow a gluten-free diet? The answer is yes, maybe and no.
Yes: For people with digestive issues who have not found relief, eliminating gluten from the diet can relieve symptoms. Digestive problems can be caused by a variety of foods and sometimes gluten is the culprit. This is a trial-and-error process; if you want to try a gluten-free diet, eliminate gluten from your diet and monitor whether or not your symptoms improve.
Maybe: When people choose to follow a gluten-free diet, they tend to eat more fresh produce, limit processed food consumption and pay more attention to what they are eating. This alone creates a healthier overall diet. Is it the omission of gluten alone that has created this healthier diet? Not necessarily, but the outcome is a positive one.
No: If you want to consume gluten-free specialty foods solely for weight loss, you will be disappointed. Consuming gluten-free bread, pasta or desserts as compared to their gluten-containing counterparts will not melt away the pounds. Following the habits as described in my “maybe” response can lead to weight loss, but purchasing gluten-free bread or cake mix will not be beneficial for weight loss.
If you are interested in following a gluten-free diet, make sure to speak with a registered dietitian first to make sure you are following an accurate gluten-free diet. Going gluten-free is not as easy as it sounds because gluten is often not clearly defined on a food label. Keep in mind, if you decide to explore a gluten-free diet, you have a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee who is eager to help you every step of the way!

- Claire Henning, RD, LD

Your Worthington Hy-Vee Dietitian

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