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The Benefits of a Gluten-Free Diet

By Clay McNight

A gluten-free diet is more than just a fad or craze. It can be very helpful for people who have gastrointestinal complications, such as celiac disease, as it can serve as way to diagnose and treat a variety of these conditions. Eating gluten-free can also help promote a healthier overall diet, if unhealthy gluten-containing foods are replaced with healthier options.

Treatment for Celiac Disease

Eating gluten-free is imperative for those with celiac disease -- an autoimmune disease triggered by gluten. According to Harvard Medical School, 300,000 people have been diagnosed with celiac disease; however, as many as 2 million Americans may have it, without an official diagnosis. Gluten can cause health complications for a person who has celiac disease, such as malnutrition, weight loss and intestinal damage. It can also affect the brain and nerves. Symptoms of celiac disease can usually be eliminated by completely removing gluten from the diet.

Treatment for Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity

A condition called nonceliac gluten sensitivity can cause symptoms similar to celiac disease, without the intestinal damage. According to Harvard Medical School, patients who are found not to have celiac disease are asked to go on a gluten-free diet. If their symptoms improve, they are then diagnosed as gluten sensitive. Treatment of nonceliac gluten sensitivity is the same as with celiac disease. According to Dr. Daniel Leffler, an international authority on celiac disease and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, it can take a long time to learn to live with a gluten-free diet because gluten is present in many foods.

Finding the Cause of Symptoms

Common symptoms caused by gluten include fatigue, constipation, gas, bloating, diarrhea, headaches and trouble concentrating. People can use the gluten-free diet as a way to find out whether they have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance. Eliminating gluten from your diet can help you determine whether the protein is causing your symptoms. If your symptoms do improve on a gluten-free diet, continuing with this approach may provide you with permanent relief.

Nutritional Foods and Substitutes

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, which are ingredients found in many baked goods as well as pizza, cereal and pasta. According to registered dietitian Rachel Begun, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eliminating those foods can make room in your diet for “naturally gluten-free foods such as fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, beans, nuts, seeds, fish and lean meats.” Amaranth, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, sorghum and teff are all high in vitamins and fiber, which makes them great nutritional substitutes in a gluten-free diet.

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