Wellness Matters

What Does Gluten-Free Mean?

October 15, 2015

Gluten is the name for a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. This protein causes inflammation in the small intestines of people with Celiac Disease. Celiac Disease is a lifelong autoimmune disorder causing abdominal pain and gastrointestinal distress when the person consumes gluten-containing products. When an individual with Celiac Disease eats gluten, it triggers an immune response in the small intestine. This response damages the villi, small fingerlike projections that absorb nutrients in the small intestine. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be properly absorbed.

Eating a gluten-free diet helps people with Celiac Disease control the symptoms, which include abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, and possible weight loss or failure to thrive.

Some people who do not have Celiac Disease may have similar gastrointestinal symptoms. This is referred to as having non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Individuals with non-celiac sensitivity can benefit from a gluten-free diet, but those with Celiac Disease need to maintain a gluten-free diet to be symptom and avoid potentially serious complications. However, switching to a gluten-free diet may take an adjustment period.

Many stores now sell a wide selection of gluten-free products.

Naturally gluten-free products are:

  •       Beans, seeds and nuts in their natural form.
  •       Fresh eggs.
  •       Fresh meats, poultry and fish.
  •       Fruits and vegetables.
  •       Most dairy products.
There are grains and starches that can be part of a gluten-free diet including:
  •       Amaranth.
  •       Arrowroot.
  •       Buckwheat.
  •       Corn and cornmeal.
  •       Flax.
  •       Gluten-free flours (rice, soy, corn, potato, bean).
  •       Hominy (corn).
  •       Millet.
  •       Quinoa.
  •       Rice.
  •       Sorghum.
  •       Soy.
  •       Tapioca.
  •       Teff.
When following a gluten-free diet, it is a rule of thumb to avoid the following foods unless they are labeled gluten-free or made with soy, rice, corn or other gluten free grain:
  •       Beer
  •       Breads
  •       Cakes and pies
  •       Candies
  •       Cereals
  •       Communion wafers
  •       Cookies and crackers
  •       Croutons
  •       French fries
  •       Gravies
  •       Imitation meat or seafood
  •       Matzo
  •       Pastas
  •       Processed luncheon meats
  •       Salad dressings
  •       Sauces, including soy sauce
  •       Seasoned rice mixes
  •       Seasoned snack foods, such as potato and tortilla chips
  •       Self-basting poultry
  •       Soups and soup bases
  •    Vegetables in sauce
It’s not just foods that can be a source of gluten. There are food additives, such as malt and modified food starch, and medications and vitamins that use gluten as a binding agent.

Caution must be taken to avoid cross-contamination of foods that come into contact with gluten. It may occur when cooking equipment is used to prepare a variety of items without being cleaned. An example of this is a toaster used to prepare both regular and gluten-free breads. Also be wary of products that are labeled “wheat-free” as they still may contain gluten. In order for a product to carry a “gluten-free” label, the Food and Drug Administration requires that a product have less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

Some experts claim that going gluten-free may have benefits including reduced digestive issues, improved mood and clarity of thought, less inflammation and higher energy levels. These claims have yet to be fully vetted. As with any dietary change, it is always good to consult your doctor or a nutritionist to see what is best for you.

About the Author


Laura Revis, MS, RD, CSP, LDN
Laura Reavis, MS, RD, CSP, LDN is a registered dietitian with the Cone Health Nutrition and Diabetes Management Center

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