1 June 2009

Food for Thought

Who really needs a gluten-free diet?
‘These days, going gluten-free is being hailed as the solution to everything from autism and ADHD to obesity, but going gluten-free before being screened for celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder that affects 1 in 100 people in many Western countries) can be hazardous to your health! This is because removing the gluten from your diet may prevent your physician from being able to diagnose it accurately,’ she says. ‘It’s absolutely imperative to see a physician before adopting a gluten-free diet.’

Shelley Case, RD

‘For people with celiac disease, following a strict gluten-free diet (no wheat, rye and barley) for life is a critical medical intervention. In fact it's the ONLY treatment available and as such must be followed very carefully.’

Celiac disease is the most common and one of the most under-diagnosed hereditary autoimmune diseases. Typical symptoms include:

  • Fatigue, weakness and lethargy
  • Low iron levels or unexplained anemia that does not improve or recurs after taking iron supplements
  • Wind, bloating and abdominal distension
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss, and/or
  • Poor weight gain, delayed growth and delayed puberty in children.
Some less common symptoms in adults include:
  • Easy bruising of the skin
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Infertility and miscarriages
  • Muscle spasms/cramps due to low calcium levels
  • Deficiencies of vitamins B12, A, D, E and K
  • Dental problems
  • Poor memory and concentration, and
  • Bone and joint pains.
If you have one or more of these signs or symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor for a check-up. They should refer you to a gastroenterologist who specializes in celiac disease.

‘The only way to diagnose celiac disease is with a blood test and small intestinal biopsy and gluten must be present in the diet in order for these tests to be accurate,’ emphasizes Case. ‘Starting the diet before the test could easily result in more people being mis-diagnosed.’

Dietitian Kate Marsh, author of Low GI Gluten-free Living Made Easy, adds: ‘There’s much more to gluten-free living than focusing on foods to avoid. Eating well is a key to good health and preventing other long-term health problems like diabetes and heart disease. While it is great to see an ever-increasing range of gluten-free foods becoming available and making life easier for those with celiac disease, unfortunately many of them are highly processed and some are high in fat and added sugar – two ingredients that are naturally gluten-free! Gluten-free diets also tend to have a high GI because many low GI staples such as whole wheat kernel breads, pasta and barley are eliminated because they contain gluten. The gluten-free alternatives, due to their ingredients and processing methods, are often quickly digested and absorbed, raising blood glucose and insulin levels.’

Low GI Gluten-free Living, which shows you how to incorporate low GI carbs into a gluten-free diet, is available from books stores and Amazon.

For more information on celiac disease and a gluten-free diet, contact your local celiac association or check out Shelley Case’s website.