Diabetes Self-Management Blog

What’s your take on gluten? Have you cut it out of your diet? Do you scour the grocery store for gluten-free foods? If so, you’re not alone. According to a survey done earlier this year by the NPD Group (a market research company), almost 30% of Americans are trying to “cut down or be free of gluten.” Another survey, conducted by Packaged Facts (also a market research company) in 2012, found that 18% of Americans buy or eat gluten-free foods. The market for gluten-free foods was $4.2 billion in 2012 and is expected to increase to $6.6 billion by 2017. The question is, why?

What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein that’s found in many grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. People who have celiac disease must avoid anything that contains gluten. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the intestines. Symptoms include intestinal damage, malabsorption of nutrients, joint pain, fatigue, infertility, and an increased risk of small intestine cancer such as lymphoma. The only treatment for celiac disease is to follow a gluten-free diet.

The tricky part about following a gluten-free diet is that gluten is found in so many of the foods that we eat. Bread, pasta, cereal, and crackers contain gluten. Many “non-grain” foods may contain gluten, too, including salad dressings, beer, luncheon meat, candy, soups, and snack foods, to name a few.

What is gluten sensitivity?
Gluten sensitivity is a condition in which a person can’t tolerate gluten but does not have celiac disease. People with gluten sensitivity may report that eating gluten-containing foods causes symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, stomachache, fatigue, headache, and skin rash; eliminating gluten from the diet seems to alleviate the symptoms. About 6% of the population is thought to have gluten sensitivity.

Until recently, researchers and health-care providers were suspect of gluten sensitivity. But now, this condition is starting to come into its own. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness recognizes gluten sensitivity as a very real condition, stating that some people who cannot tolerate gluten do not have antibodies and the intestinal damage that people with celiac do, but that they do have an immune response to gluten, nevertheless.

What causes gluten sensitivity?
Gluten is made up of several types of protein and it can be hard to digest. In many people, gluten fragments can pass through the digestive tract without a hitch, but in others, these fragments can wreak havoc when they reach the small intestine. Basically, the gluten triggers an immune response. (In the case of celiac disease, it is an autoimmune response, in which the immune system attacks the villi [finger-like projections] in the intestines.)

How is gluten sensitivity diagnosed?
Unfortunately, at this time, there’s no diagnostic test for gluten sensitivity. Health-care providers rely on their patients’ symptoms as a means of “diagnosing” this condition. Other conditions have to be ruled out, too, like irritable bowel syndrome, wheat allergy, and other intestinal disorders. (Celiac disease is diagnosed with a blood test and ideally, the gold standard, which is an intestinal biopsy.).

If gluten sensitivity is suspected, the next step is to go on a gluten-free diet; if symptoms improve, the person would be diagnosed with gluten sensitivity.

Are gluten-free diets good for everyone?
Following a gluten-free diet has become quite trendy as gluten has gotten a bad rap. Many celebrities, athletes, and politicians follow a gluten-free diet, including Miley Cyrus, Chelsea Clinton, Lady Gaga, Victoria Beckham, and Jessica Alba. In some ways, it’s understandable: If you’re bloated, fatigued, or have a headache, it’s easy to point the finger at something, such as gluten. But it’s important to realize that these symptoms can be caused by many other factors. And claims about the benefits of a gluten-free diet are often taken to extremes.

Some people jump on the gluten-free bandwagon in hopes of losing weight, improving athletic performance, boosting energy, and even managing diabetes. There’s no evidence that a gluten-free diet is helpful or effective for any of these. Not everyone loses weight on a gluten-free diet, as some gluten-free products are higher in carbohydrate, fat, and calories than their regular counterparts. In other words, a gluten-free diet is not necessary a healthful diet. You can get gluten-free cookies, cake, and candy, which aren’t exactly healthful choices. Of course, a gluten-free diet may lead to better food choices, such as eating more fruits and vegetables and cutting out many refined carbohydrate foods. But going gluten-free is not a guarantee of anything unless you happen to have celiac disease or possibly, gluten sensitivity.

Following a gluten-free diet can make a big dent in your food budget, too. Researchers found that gluten-free products (meaning cereals, crackers, pasta, cookies, and the like) can cost up to 242% more than regular foods.

Of note, as of August, the FDA has issued a rule that defines the term “gluten-free”, which is good news for those who need to avoid gluten. For more information on this, visit the FDA’s Web site.

What should you do?
If you have gastrointestinal symptoms, chronic headaches, or fatigue, work with your health-care provider to determine the cause. Although people who have Type 1 diabetes have a 5- to 10-fold increased risk of celiac disease compared to those without diabetes, it’s not more common in people with Type 2 diabetes. Nevertheless, celiac and gluten sensitivity should be ruled out.

If you’re diagnosed with either celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, meet with a dietitian who is experienced with gluten-free diets. The diet is rigorous and somewhat tricky to follow until you learn the ropes.

And if you don’t have the above symptoms? There’s really no need to go gluten-free.

POST A COMMENT       
  

Comments
  1. Exactly!
    I don’t flog GF as the “cure” for everything but for me and others like me that do have sensitivity but not celiac it is a huge change to have people start realizing that GF sensitivity is real.

    Thanks for the article.

    Posted by Glenn W |
  2. Amy: Not a celiac or gluten sensitivity yet kicking grains has helped my type 2 dramatically.

    I have tried almond flour cooking and breads and am impressed.

    I cut sugars and snacks early and did not save my rear end.

    Today restricting grains and gluten breads most helpful. Thirty years ago I stopped sugars, snacks but did not save my rear end.

    Thank you for your comments and questions.

    Posted by jim snell |
  3. I have a “sensitivity” to lima beans. And liver. And Cilantro. And all the other foods I don’t enjoy.

    Posted by Joe |
  4. You didn’t mention that gluten sensitivity can also cause Dermatitis Herpetiformis. I had large clear blisters, they look like herpes, on my elbows and knees and also all the other symptoms listed above. Living gluten is expensive and not easy but certainly worth it.

    Posted by Janet |
  5. Eliminated gluten……..threw away my constant companion, Pepto Bismol tablets.

    Posted by Mary Lou |
  6. Fruit, vegetables and lean meats sounds like all you can eat with this type of sensitivity. That would be fine with me…and you’d keep your weight in check eating like this!

    Posted by Terri |

Post a Comment

Note: All comments are moderated and there may be a delay in the publication of your comment. Please be on-topic and appropriate. Do not disclose personal information. Be respectful of other posters. Only post information that is correct and true to your knowledge. When referencing information that is not based on personal experience, please provide links to your sources. All commenters are considered to be nonmedical professionals unless explicitly stated otherwise. Promotion of your own or someone else's business or competing site is not allowed: Sharing links to sites that are relevant to the topic at hand is permitted, but advertising is not. Once submitted, comments cannot be modified or deleted by their authors. Comments that don't follow the guidelines above may be deleted without warning. Such actions are at the sole discretion of DiabetesSelfManagement.com. Comments are moderated Monday through Friday by the editors of DiabetesSelfManagement.com. The moderators are employees of R.A. Rapaport Publishing, Inc., and do not report any conflicts of interest. A privacy policy setting forth our policies regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of certain information relating to you and your use of this Web site can be found here. For more information, please read our Terms and Conditions.


Nutrition & Meal Planning
Google Nutrition Comparison Tool (04/01/14)
Six Fish Facts to Know Now (03/11/14)
Eating Disorders and Diabetes: What's the Connection? (02/24/14)
Soy and Diabetes: Good, Bad, or What? (02/12/14)

 

 

Disclaimer of Medical Advice: You understand that the blog posts and comments to such blog posts (whether posted by us, our agents or bloggers, or by users) do not constitute medical advice or recommendation of any kind, and you should not rely on any information contained in such posts or comments to replace consultations with your qualified health care professionals to meet your individual needs. The opinions and other information contained in the blog posts and comments do not reflect the opinions or positions of the Site Proprietor.


Carbohydrate Restriction: An Option for Diabetes Management
Some people find that decreasing the amount of carbohydrate they eat can help with blood glucose control. Here’s what to know about this approach.

Insulin Patch Pumps: A New Tool for Type 2
Patch pumps are simpler to operate than traditional insulin pumps and may be a good option for some people with Type 2 diabetes who need insulin.

How Much Do You Know About Vitamins?
Learn what these micronutrients can and can’t do for you.

Complete table of contents
Get a FREE ISSUE
Subscription questions