It seems that everywhere we go these days, there are more and more gluten-free options. And that's a very good thing. Far from being the latest food fad, gluten-free diets are actually life-changing and even life-saving for some people. But there's a lot of confusion out there about what gluten is, who should be eating gluten-free, and why these dietary changes are helpful. Today, for National Celiac Awareness Day, we're breaking down the Celiac and gluten basics.
What is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in wheat and certain other grains. In addition to these foods, gluten is often used in cosmetics, personal care products, and medicines.
What are gluten sensitivity and gluten intolerance? Some people are sensitive to or intolerant of gluten. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, gluten sensitivity is generally considered a milder reaction to gluten, whereas gluten intolerance is a more severe condition. In both cases, the body reacts to gluten exposure, causing intestinal inflammation and distress, headaches, nausea, and other symptoms. Removing gluten from the diet (and in some cases, from trans-dermal exposure as well) alleviates the symptoms of gluten sensitivity and intolerance.
How is that different from Celiac Disease? Celiac disease is not a direct reaction to gluten. Celiac is actually an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system responds to gluten exposure by causing the body to attack itself. In addition to being uncomfortable, painful, and exhausting, this condition also causes malnutrition, bloating, digestive issues, fatigue, skin problems, and a host of other symptoms and problems. Once someone has been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, s/he must conform to a strictly gluten-free diet and eliminate all other gluten exposure. Because many medications include gluten, it's imperative that people with Celiac Disease wear medical ID jewelry alerting first responders to their condition. Otherwise, in an emergency, the situation can be made much worse through gluten exposure.
Who else eats a gluten-free diet? Some people simply find that they feel better eating gluten-free foods. This may be because they are mildly gluten intolerant or sensitive, or simply because removing gluten often coincides with removing many processed foods and eating more whole-food options (such as with a Paleo diet) with fewer preservatives and processing elements.
Do you eat a gluten-free diet? What inspired you to go gluten-free? We always want to hear from you!