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Gluten is a term for proteins found in certain grains like wheat, barley, rye and
triticale (a wheatrye hybrid). When mixed with liquid and manipulated, the proteins
form an elastic substance that gives structure to flour mixtures such as bread.
When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, his/her immune system responds by attacking
the lining of the small intestine. The small, fingerlike growths in the intestine,
called villi, are damaged in the process (see image on the right) and are not able
to absorb the important nutrients needed for health. This increases the risk for nutrient
deficiency diseases like bone disease and anemia.
It is estimated that around 1 percent of the US population has celiac disease. Another 5 to 10 percent of the population may have some degree of gluten intolerance
or sensitivity. Nonceliac gluten sensitivity does not result in damage to the digestive
tract, but it can cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms similar to those of celiac
Symptoms of celiac disease include: stomach pain, gas, diarrhea, extreme tiredness,
change in mood, slowed growth, itchy skin rash with blisters, and weight loss.
The only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten free diet. Avoiding gluten will
allow the small intestine to heal. Eating foods that contain gluten will continue
to harm the small intestine.
For people who do not have celiac disease, gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity,
a gluten-free diet doesn’t provide any health benefit. The whole grains that contain
gluten are a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. People following gluten
free diets may not get enough essential nutrients and may need to take supplements.
People who do not have celiac disease but follow a gluten free diet may lose weight
and feel better because they have cut out foods made with refined grains like desserts,
snack foods and other processed foods.
The following list provides examples of naturally gluten-free foods. This is not a
There are multiple resources available for those with gluten sensitivity or celiac
disease. These websites may be helpful in adapting to a gluten free diet.
For smart phones users, there is also a new mobile app for gluten free eaters. The
app is called The Gluten Detective can be used to identify gluten containing ingredients
in food items at the grocery store.