A protein found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains that, even when eaten in small quantities by someone with celiac or gluten sensitivity causes the immune system to respond as if the body is in danger and attack the lining of the small intestine. Because the damaged intestine can no longer absorb nutrients, malabsorption is common for those with celiac or food allergies. As a result, other serious and varied health problems are likely to arise, such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, fertility issues, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis…the list is quite extensive.

As many as 1 in 7 people experience symptoms of gluten sensitivity and as many as 1 in 133 people have celiac.

The tricky thing about gluten issues is that symptoms may appear immediately or up to three days after ingestion and often mimic other conditions such as irritable bowel, spastic colon, thyroid disease, colitis, and gastric ulcers. There are more than 300 symptoms of celiac and gluten sensitivity, including depression, fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, gas, irritability, anemia, bloating, joint pain, mouth sores, brain fog, migraines, nasal congestion, and tingling in feet and legs.

The only treatment to alleviate symptoms is to avoid gluten. Following a strictly gluten-free diet, focusing on whole, unprocessed foods will allow the intestines to heal and nutritional deficiencies to be corrected.

Celiac and/or gluten sensitivity can manifest at any time in life and may be triggered by stressful events such as pregnancy, childbirth, surgery, serious injury, or severe mental/emotional stress.

The Gold Standard for diagnosing a gluten issue is an Elimination Diet. If you eliminate all gluten from your diet for 2-4 weeks and symptoms significantly decrease or subside, gluten is most likely the issue.

Some people think the media flurry surrounding gluten-free issues is all hype, but celiac is increasing world-wide and many experts believe it is due to changes in the way wheat is grown and processed and due to our standard diets being saturated with so many processed foods.

Just because a product is labeled “gluten-free” doesn’t necessarily mean it is good for you. Often times processed “gluten-free” food products are loaded with added sugars and unhealthy fats, both of which pose other health concerns.

If consuming processed foods, be aware of product labels as there are hidden sources of gluten: (If the label doesn’t specify “gluten-free”, it’s probably best to not take a chance)

* Condiments (soy and other sauces, bouillon, gravy, salad dressings, etc.)

* Dairy (processed cheese, ice cream, flavored yogurts, etc.)

* Grains (cornflakes, cornbread, grits, seasoned rice, pasta, etc.)

* Nuts (seasoned or flavored, etc.)

* Proteins (premade hamburgers, deli meats, seasoned meats, canned bean soups, breaded frozen meats, etc.)

* Vegetables/Fruits (seasoned or sauced in a can, chips, French fries, etc.)

* Sweets (chocolates, candy, brown rice syrup, etc.)

* Obvious sources of gluten: wheat, durum, semolina, farro, kamut, spelt, rye, barley

* Other label ingredients that may need more exploration: added vitamins, baking powder, caramel color, dextrin, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, malt, MSG, natural or artificial coloring, spices, starches, vinegar

So, what should we eat? Tons of brightly colored organic fruits and veggies! Iron-rich grass-fed beef, organic chicken and eggs, and wild-caught fish. Raw nuts and seeds. Probiotic-rich sauerkraut and raw dairy.

Where should we eat? Many restaurants are now offering “gluten-free” menu options, however, Dorothy said it best, “There’s no place like home”! I’ve come to believe the most nutritious meals can be easily prepared at home, so why not invite some friends or family over and try out some new recipes using fresh, whole, organic ingredients. Plus it is a great way to develop strong relationships and a true sense of community!

Other interesting facts and great reads:

“50% of the approximately 60 million people in the U.S. who suffer from IBS are probably sensitive to gluten”. – Daniel Leffler, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and gastroenterologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston. (

If you plan to go gluten-free, select more fruits, vegetables, and lean meat, and more naturally gluten-free grains like brown rice, quinoa, and buckwheat, rather than just buying prepackaged products labeled “gluten-free”. – Dee Sandquist, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. (

Gluten: What You Don’t Know Might Kill You
Mark Hyman, MD

Against the Grain
David J. Craig

Gluten Sensitivity v. Celiac Disease – What do we know?
Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN

*Unless otherwise noted, all facts and information taken from Taste for Life (September 2009, October 2009, May 2010) and Delicious Living (May 2010)

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