BATON ROUGE, La – The gluten-free label is becoming more popular on items in the grocery store.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale. People who have the autoimmune disease, celiac disease, experience a toxic immune response when they ingest gluten and should eliminate gluten from their diets, according to LSU AgCenter registered dietician Denise Holston-West.
Only about one to three percent of people in the U.S. have celiac disease, she said. But people without a diagnosis of celiac disease are choosing to go gluten-free.
“I think a lot of people may think that gluten-free means healthy. But if you don’t have celiac disease and you go gluten-free, you are putting yourself at risk for nutrition deficiencies,” Holston-West said.
Whole-grain products are an important part of our diet, Holston-West said. Eliminating gluten can lead to deficiencies of folate, iron and the B-vitamins that enrich grains.
People with celiac disease must work closely with a registered dietician to develop a diet that includes supplements to replace the nutrients they are losing, she said.
“Some people can have a non-celiac sensitivity to gluten,” Holston-West said. “But the research on that is scant.”
She recommended that people who suspect they may have a gluten sensitivity talk to a doctor and get a blood test because that is how celiac disease is diagnosed. They also can try eliminating certain foods then reintroducing them to see how they do.
Celiac disease can have symptoms similar to irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis or anemia, so it is important to confirm it.
Not only are there no substantiated health benefits of eating gluten-free unless a person has celiac disease, it can also cost more at the grocery store, Holston-West said.
“Gluten-free products can be about twice as much as regular grain products,” she said.
She recommended eating a diet that has foods from all groups and said people who have made long-term positive changes to their health did it in moderation.
“They don’t take any drastic measures against what they would normally do,” Holston-West said.