I love bread, and as I savor the homemade cherry walnut bread from our Nutrition and Dietetics cafeteria, Fresh Gatherings Cafe , I imagine how difficult and challenging the gluten-free diet would be to follow and maintain. I have recently noticed a growing interest in the gluten-free diet and seen a rising number of stars such as Oprah, Jenny McCarthy, and Gweneth Paltrow who are following the gluten-free diet so they can lose weight and because they claim it is a “healthier” way of eating (I wonder what Oprah’s side kick, Bob Greene thinks of this…). Fortunately for the stars, if they inadvertently eat a food containing gluten they won’t experience the negative consequences that occur to those with a true gluten sensitivity or those with celiac disease who follow the diet because they haveto. So what is gluten anyway? And what is the gluten-free diet? Gluten is a vegetable protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other less well known grains like triticale. Therefore, it makes up the majority of grain-based products we eat like cereal, bread, pizza crust, pasta, bagels, and less suspecting foods like soy sauce, beer, and some salad dressings. The list of gluten-containing foods is long, and the homework to uncover words like “malt” or “hydrolyzed wheat protein” in the ingredient list that contain gluten is overwhelming. Imagine the difficulty of eating out at a restaurant where sauces, salad dressings, and condiments don’t contain labels or ingredient lists… If you are interested in a more complete list of off-limit gluten-free foods, check out this celiac website . The gluten-free diet originated as a meal prescription and treatment diet for individuals who are gluten sensitive or who have a disease called celiac disease. When those with these conditions eat gluten containing foods, the gluten causes damage to the lining of their small intestine causing mal-absorption of vital nutrients that could lead to malunutrition, osteoporosis, anemia, and growth development problems in children. It has been estimated that 3 million Americans have celiac disease, but many of these cases are un-diagnosed due to the individual experiencing only moderate discomfort or dismissing the discomfort as irritable bowel syndrome or stress-related pain. Thankfully for those who have to follow this diet, the market for gluten-free products, like gluten-free bread mix, gluten-free waffles, and gluten-free soy sauce has skyrocketed and is estimated to continue to grow. Although, the flavor and palatability of these products are sometimes not well received, the recipes are improving and there continue to be a growing number of options in the grocery store. Unfortunately, the products can also come at a hefty price. If you suspect you might have a gluten senstiivity or celiac disease, don’t self diagnose and follow the diet before you see a physician. Following a gluten-free diet prior to diagnosis would mask any symptoms and result in a false negative diagnosis. So for all of those celebrities out there who are using the gluten-free diet as the next fad diet, have some sensitivity for those who have to follow the diet, and have to comb through each and every ingredient list, and have to avoid delicious freshly baked bread.
Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.