Meghan Tiernan (MS, RD, LDN) is a registered dietitian with a passion for helping others achieve a healthy lifestyle. She strives to help others learn the most nutritious way to eat, in order to achieve good health. Meghan enjoys cooking and running and believes that with just some basic knowledge, you can gain the confidence in yourself to know that you can eat well.

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Dietitian Consult

by Meghan Tiernan, MS, RD, LDN

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Going gluten free has become a pretty popular thing to do, not only for the increased number of people diagnosed with Celiac disease, but also for those trying to lose a few pounds.

What Is Gluten?

It's become so popular, in fact, that Jimmy Kimmel recently did a segment on his show asking people who follow a gluten free diet to explain what gluten actually is. The funny part about this is that most people couldn't answer the question:

It's not surprising people don't really know what gluten is; it's a tough thing to identify in a lot of products. For those whom avoidance is medically necessary, it takes a lot of education with label reading and understanding ingredients... and it's not just limited to food. Gluten can be found in hair products, makeup, vitamins and medications. It can also be found in some meat products, spices and other pre-seasoned foods. Gluten has found its way into many items because of its versatility.

So, what is gluten?

Gluten is a combination of two proteins found in wheat products. It helps give bread the texture we all know and love. The proteins are gliadin and glutenin. Gluten is found in wheat products as well as barley, rye and some oat products. Like I mentioned before, gluten is also used in spices to prevent clumping, artificial flavoring, medications, marinades, hair products, malt products and soy sauce... just to name a few. You have to educate yourself - particularly when it comes to ingredient lists - to identify any potential sources of gluten in a product.

Fortunately, the FDA has increased regulations on gluten free labeling. Many products that are gluten free are now labeled as such, making it a little less difficult. You can also contact a company to see if they can assure you that a product is gluten free. If they are unable to say so definitively, it's important to weigh on the side of caution, as there's always a risk of cross-contamination.

Those who are unable to tolerate gluten have an autoimmune disorder known as Celiac disease. This can be diagnosed through testing, and it's vital that those with Celiac disease are compliant with a gluten free diet.

A less definitive diagnosis is also gluten sensitivity, which has been in the news lately for the possibility that it may not actually be a "gluten-related" condition at all, but possibly caused by other dietary triggers. This can't be diagnosed, but if you're experiencing bloating, gas, diarrhea, etc, it may be worth a try to cut gluten out to see if your symptoms improve, or discuss your discomfort with a dietitian. When someone with Celiac disease consumes gluten, their body is unable to digest it, which can lead to many gastrointestinal symptoms and inflammation resulting in malabsorption and other health issues. I would strongly recommend anyone that is diagnosed with Celiac disease to meet with a dietitian to review the restrictions.

Gluten free diets are also now being toted for their weight loss effects. And while people may lose weight while following this diet, it's most likely due to the fact that a gluten free diet is very limiting in your food choices. You're going to be consuming less refined carbs and junk foods since they all contain gluten, and most likely eating more fruits, vegetables and proteins.

The nice part about the growing popularity of the gluten free diet, especially for those with Celiac disease, is that there are many more products available than in the past. There are entire sections of grocery stores devoted to gluten free items, labeling is much more strict, and the quality and taste of these ...    Continue

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@ 6:35pm ET on November 1, 2014
I didn't realize gluten was not only In the foods we eat.

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