Is a Gluten-Free Diet Right for You?
Candidates include people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or those with a wheat allergy
WebMD News Archive
Another group of people who might benefit from forgoing gluten are those who have what's called gluten sensitivity. "We're just starting to recognize this non-celiac-related sensitivity to gluten," Levy said.
"When they eat gluten," he said, "they can have diarrhea or they may get bloated, nauseous, tired and achy." Begun added that people who are gluten-sensitive may also experience migraines and feel like they have a "foggy brain."
"Something is going on in the body that triggers these symptoms, but you don't see damage to the intestine," she said. "There's a lot of research going on now in this area, but we don't yet know if there are any long-term consequences of gluten sensitivity."
Others who might want to avoid gluten are those who are allergic to wheat. Begun said while there's no specific allergy to gluten, some people with a wheat allergy choose to avoid gluten-containing products altogether due to the risk of cross-contamination with wheat.
Though it might seem logical to stop eating gluten to see if it's at the root of your problems, both Levy and Begun noted that that's an extremely bad idea. First, they said, you should see a gastroenterologist to be evaluated for celiac disease. Otherwise, stopping consumption of gluten can mask the true cause of your symptoms.
Once those results are in, dietary adjustments can follow. Begun said the best gluten-free diet is one that contains foods that are naturally gluten-free, such as fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, beans, nuts, seeds, fish and lean meats.
"A healthy diet really doesn't need to change much when you give up gluten," she said. But people with celiac disease need to carefully watch for hidden sources of gluten. For example, she said, bottled salad dressings may contain gluten, as might soy sauce, medications, vitamins and even lip balm.
"For people with celiac disease, it's not just a matter of trying to avoid gluten," Begun said. "They must avoid even tiny amounts of gluten."
Eating out gluten-free can be a challenge because restaurants don't always understand that cross-contamination can be a problem, too. "If a gluten-free food touches something with gluten, someone with celiac can't eat it," Begun said. "The restaurant industry as a whole is trying hard and has come a long way."