The gluten-free diet has been very popular as of late. It seems like many people are discovering that wheat is not for them for one reason or another. Research on gluten-free diets being the cure-all for the general population are few and far between, but a small percentage of our population, including those diagnosed with celiac disease, wheat allergy or non-celiac gluten sensitivity would benefit from a gluten-free diet.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease triggered by the ingestion of gluten-containing grains in genetically susceptible individuals. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley that gives dough its sticky and pliable consistency. In celiac disease, gluten causes damage to the small intestine which affects its ability to absorb nutrients. All forms of wheat, rye and barley must be strictly avoided, including spelt, kamut, einkorn, emmer, faro, durum, couscous, semolina, bulgur and triticale. Celiac disease is diagnosed with a celiac panel blood test and small bowel biopsy.
Wheat allergy, also called baker’s asthma, is a condition where a wheat-specific antibody causes hives, sudden anaphylaxis, sneezing and wheezing when one eats gluten. This true wheat allergy is believed to be rare and is most often diagnosed with a skin-prick test.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity may be present in individuals who are not able to tolerate gluten. They may have similar gastrointestinal symptoms as someone with celiac disease, but without the repercussions of severe intestinal damage. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is diagnosed after celiac disease and wheat allergy have been excluded through diagnostic testing.
Research to determine the prevalence of these conditions is ever-evolving. However, an estimated 1-2 percent of Americans have celiac disease, about 1 percent have a wheat allergy and 6 percent may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Regardless of these numbers, marketers estimate that 15-25 percent of Americans want gluten-free foods!
Many individuals believe that a gluten-free diet will alleviate other medical conditions such as autism, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease and multiple sclerosis. Unfortunately, the research does not support these claims. Working with medical doctors and registered dietitians to determine nutritional needs on a case-by-case basis is best.
Trying the gluten-free diet for weight loss is another popular trend, but it does not necessarily lead to weight loss. Many gluten-free products today contain the same amount, if not more, sugar and fat than wheat-based foods. Stay informed, read food labels and speak with a registered dietitian about any concerns.
For those of you with children diagnosed with celiac disease, wheat allergy or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, Harker offers many gluten-free options on a daily basis, with slight variances depending on your child’s grade-level. Please look for the gluten-free (GF) symbol when determining what’s for lunch!
Here are some examples of the GF options offered:
- GF soups
- GF tossed salads
- Salad bar: chicken, turkey, tofu, veggies, greens, GF dressing available, fruit, cottage cheese, yogurt.
- GF quinoa pasta
- Turkey sandwich on GF bread
- Soy butter & jelly sandwich on GF bread
- Meat/fish/seafood entrees
- Vegetarian entrees