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Gluten-Free Fact vs. Fiction

21 April 2015
Written by Hannah
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With Celiac Awareness month on the horizon in May, now seems as good a time as any to clarify some of the on-going myths surrounding gluten-free living. Our good friends at Wegmans have created a succinct and helpful overview of many of the misconceptions. Following is a excerpt from Wegman's blogger and dietician, Trish Kazacos', most recent article "Dispelling Gluten-Free Myths." If you're living a gluten-free lifestyle or just interested in being educated on the subject, I hope you'll find this information helpful.

Myth: Celiac disease is a digestive disorder.

Fact: Celiac disease is a genetic, autoimmune disorder that is triggered by gluten proteins found in wheat, rye and barley. When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, their immune system responds by attacking tiny finger-like structures called villi in the small intestines. Damaged villi cannot fully absorb the nutrients needed to stay healthy, which can lead to various symptoms or potentially serious health conditions.

Myth: Few people have celiac disease and their main symptoms are abdominal gas or bloating.

Fact: An estimated 1% of the population (or 3 million Americans) have celiac disease yet only 17% of them are currently diagnosed (hence, one reason for Celiac Awareness Month). While abdominal gas and bloating are viewed as classic symptoms, not everyone with celiac disease has GI symptoms. There are over 300 symptoms including fatigue, joint pain, skin rash, depression, infertility, and headaches. Symptoms can vary from person to person.

Myth: I should just try a gluten-free diet first, to see if feel better, before I talk to my doctor.

Fact: A simple blood test is the first step to help determine if someone has celiac disease. In order for the test to be reliable you must be consuming a regular, gluten-containing diet for at least several weeks before the test is performed (otherwise it could produce a false negative result). Always talk to your doctor first before going on a gluten-free diet.

Myth: Gluten-Free Foods are Healthier

Fact: Naturally gluten-free foods like plain fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, milk, meat, poultry, seafood and gluten-free whole grains are wonderfully nutritious. However, some products that are developed to be gluten-free (e.g., breads, pastas or crackers) may be missing key nutrients like B vitamins, iron or fiber. Why? While refined starches (like those from corn, potato or tapioca) and white rice flour are commonly used in gluten-free products, they are low in fiber and are not required to be fortified. Plus, some gluten-free products have more calories than comparable gluten-containing products. So, while it is possible to eat a healthy gluten-free diet, not everything that is gluten-free is healthier.

Myth: It's easy to find gluten-free foods. Now that the FDA has defined what it means every food that is gluten-free must be labeled as such.

Fact: The FDA's ruling on gluten-free labeling is voluntary, meaning that not every food that is gluten-free will have a gluten-free claim on the label. However, any FDA-regulated product that has a gluten-free claim must meet specific minimum criteria in order to make that claim.

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