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EAT: TO GLUTEN OR NOT TO GLUTEN, THAT IS THE QUESTION

Going gluten-free just because? Lately it’s become hip to go gluten-free, but unless you have celiac disease, it may not be the best idea.

Gluten-free foods have become a fad with grocery stores proudly offering “gluten-free” aisles and restaurants offering “gluten-free” menu options. For the small number of people in the U.S. who actually have celiac disease and can’t tolerate gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley), these offerings are a blessing because the only treatment for this disease is a gluten-free diet.

When you have celiac disease, even the smallest bite of gluten can damage your intestines and can trigger debilitating gastrointestinal discomfort, which is why getting rid of gluten completely is important. But, one of the challenges of eating a gluten-free diet is that when you cut out gluten, you also cut out a lot of important nutrients found in gluten such as fiber, iron, calcium, and vitamin B12, to name a few. This is why people with celiac disease need to be knowledgeable about their diet and nutrition, making sure that gluten is completely eliminated but that important nutrients are added from other sources. When you have celiac disease, gluten-free isn’t a “diet,” it’s a medical necessity.

Unfortunately, based on little or no evidence, people have been switching to gluten-free diets not out of necessity, but because they want to lose weight, boost energy or generally feel healthier. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve your health, usually this happens on a gluten-free diet as the result of cutting out less nutritious foods that contain gluten, such as desserts and junk foods. But, just like people with celiac disease who cut out the gluten, those who go gluten-free as a “diet” also run the risk of losing out on important nutrients.

If you do not have celiac disease and are determined to go gluten-free, here are a few things to think about:

  • Fortified breads and cereals (which contain gluten) have become a major source of B vitamins in the U.S. Pregnant women, or those trying to get pregnant, need vitamin B9, more commonly known as folate or folic acid, to prevent birth defects.
  • Whole wheat is also a major source of dietary fiber, which the bowels need to work properly. The average American diet is deficient in fiber and when you take away whole wheat in gluten-free products, the problem gets worse.
  • A registered dietitian can be an excellent resource to help make sure your diet remains healthy and provides the right amount of nutrients.

If you think you might have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, it's best to talk with your health care provider, especially before going gluten-free. Reach out to your Navy health care team with RelayHealth to set up an appointment.

For more information about celiac disease, visit: www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/celiac-disease/Pages/facts.aspx

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