This word has been getting a lot of buzz lately and it seems that following a gluten-free diet is becoming a trend in some circles. But what exactly is it and who should care?
Gluten is a protein found in certain grains such as wheat, barley, triticale and rye. Because it has the ability to give foods a desired texture and adds flavour, it is also used as a food
For most people it is completely harmless, however, if you have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease or a gluten sensitivity, following a gluten-free diet is recommended.
For people diagnosed with Celiac, even trace amounts of gluten can cause damage to the absorptive surface of the intestines. This can lead to malabsorption of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. The result can be unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, gas or the development of anemia, osteoporosis or neurological disorders. Although symptoms may vary in degree, it is important to follow a strict gluten-free diet as intestinal damage can still occur even if symptoms are not present.
Gluten intolerance, like celiac disease, involves an immune reaction to gluten. However, while causing many similar symptoms, it does not cause the same damage to the intestine. At present, it is not clear whether a gluten sensitivity is permanent or might be outgrown.
Currently, following a gluten-free diet is the only management for these conditions. Fortunately the number of gluten-free products is growing and the labelling is becoming a lot more clear to help identify appropriate foods. Health Canada is even proposing to amend the Food and Drug regulations to enhance the labelling of priority allergens, gluten sources and sulphites in foods. Many restaurants are also becoming aware of the issue and are starting to offer gluten free items or are willing to accommodate a gluten-free request.
Although learning to follow a gluten-free diet can be overwhelming at first, with a bit of planning it can be very manageable and enjoyable too!