THE BLOG
01/27/2016 02:23 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2017

Should you be eating gluten-free?

While wheat is one of the main foods in the Western diet, it is also the number one enemy for those who suffer from a gluten allergy or who have celiac disease. In the past, many people who are not already eating a gluten-free diet have assumed that it was just another fad diet, but this is not the case. Eating a gluten-free diet has a number of health benefits, mainly for those who have a celiac disease. In fact, for those who have celiac disease, eating a gluten-free diet is the only form of treatment.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten causes damage in the small intestine. It is estimated to affect about every 1 in 100 people worldwide. In the United States, there are about 2.5 million people who are currently living with celiac disease and are unaware of it. Those who have not yet been diagnosed are at a higher risk for long-term health complications such as iron deficiency anemia, early onset osteoporosis or osteopenia, infertility and miscarriage, lactose intolerance, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, central and peripheral nervous system disorders, pancreatic insufficiency, intestinal lymphomas and other GI cancers, gall bladder malfunction, and neurological problems.

If you have celiac disease and eat gluten, your immune system usually responds by causing inflammation and damage in the part of the small intestine that absorbs essential nutrients. In people with celiac disease, gluten causes inflammation in the small intestine.

When people with celiac disease consume gluten, the immune system responds by causing inflammation in the small intestine. The lining of the small intestine has villi that are needed to absorb nutrients. When gluten is ingested, the inflammation causes the villi to become damaged and the small intestine is then unable to absorb the nutrients from the gluten. This will often lead to a person developing symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, weight loss or gain, constant fatigue or weakness, headaches, infertility, depression, abdominal pain, bone pain and anemia. On the other hand, people who have celiac disease may not develop any significant symptoms that are noticeable. This makes the disease difficult to recognize unless you are actually tested for it.

For those who have celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is the only form of treatment. A gluten-free diet is a diet that eliminates anything that contains gluten. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat. It is found in foods like wheat starch, wheat bran, wheat germ, couscous, fu, and matzo. Eating a gluten-free diet is necessary to prevent symptoms and any complications related to the disease. If celiac disease is left untreated, it can lead to serious health problems including type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, neurological conditions like epilepsy and migraines, short stature, and intestinal cancers.

Gluten-free diets are not only beneficial for people with celiac disease. While there has been controversy surrounding this topic, there are many people who don't have celiac disease but do possess many of the symptoms that come as a result of consuming gluten. In this case, the condition is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity are gluten intolerance. It is estimated that 18 million Americans have gluten sensitivity. However, people who suffer from this condition do not experience the same intestinal damage as those with celiac disease. People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity experience symptoms such as a headache, foggy mind, joint pain, and numbness in the legs, arms or fingers. Symptoms usually appear within a few hours or days after consuming gluten.

Regardless of what reason you may consider a gluten-free diet, it is recommended that you consult your doctor or a dietician to help you assess the pros and cons and whether it will be beneficial to you. Gluten-free foods include dairy, fish and seafood, beans, seeds, nuts, eggs, fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, quinoa, and soy.