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The health benefits of following a gluten-free diet and question of whether or not gluten-sensitivities actually exist has been hotly debated by the media recently. The abundance of gluten-free products in grocery stores and restaurants has made it easier for our society to adopt a gluten-free diet, but is it really a healthier choice? Before we can answer this question, we must first define what gluten and gluten-sensitivity actually is.

Gluten is a protein most commonly found in wheat, rye, and barley. It is also a hidden ingredient in many other everyday products including salad dressings, lunch meats and canned soup. For those diagnosed with celiac disease (an autoimmune condition where ingesting gluten causes damage the small intestine), all sources of gluten must be completely eliminated from the diet. Gluten-sensitivity is different from celiac disease. It is defined as intestinal (gas, bloating, hard or loose stools) or extra-intestinal (headaches, pain, low energy, skin rashes, etc.) symptoms that improve or disappear after following a gluten-free diet. Depending on how sensitive to gluten a person is, they may be able to tolerate hidden sources, but have to avoid larger amounts found in the more common sources.

The best way to determine if you’re sensitive to gluten is to do a trial elimination for at least 3 weeks and monitor how you feel. Usually by this time people who are sensitive to gluten will notice an improvement in their health. If after 3 weeks you’re unsure if gluten is affecting you, re-introduce it back into your diet to see if you get a reaction.

If you determine that you are gluten-sensitive, then limiting the amount of gluten in your diet will help keep symptoms at bay and have positive outcomes on your overall health. However, keep in mind that this isn’t a free pass to indulge on gluten-free packaged goods! Cookies, granola bars and other snack foods, whether they’re gluten-free or not, should still be kept in moderation. Eating as much real, whole foods as possible (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, beans, chicken, fish, and so on) should be the focus of all diets, gluten-free or not.

If you have further questions about whether a gluten-free diet is right for you, please ask during your next appointment!