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April 12, 2011

Will a gluten-free diet improve your health?

A #GF diet can improve your health if you have celiac disease, are gluten intolerant or are allergic to wheat/gluten. It may also benefit those on the autism spectrum, but it's a way of life, not a diet. It's difficult to go gluten free, it can be very expensive and it requires careful monitoring of proteins, vitamins and fiber that you would otherwise get from whole grain breads.

I have two children on the spectrum, one is allergic to wheat and has been gluten and casein free since birth, he also stims if he gets even a tiny dose of wheat. My teenage daughter can eat all the gluten she wants without any side effects or worsening of her #ASD symptoms.

In short, gluten free is not for everyone.

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Will a gluten-free diet improve your health?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye (and countless food products like pasta that contain those grains).

Experts now think of gluten intolerance as a spectrum of conditions, with celiac disease on one end and, on the other, what's been called a "no man's land" of gluten-related gastrointestinal problems that may or may not overlap.

Leffler estimates, for instance, that half of the approximately 60 million people in the U.S. who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are probably sensitive to gluten. (Gluten allergies, which are similar to other food allergies, also fall on the spectrum but affect only about 0.1 percent of the population.)

Gluten-free doesn't equal healthy

If you suspect your body can't tolerate gluten, the first thing you should do is get tested for celiac disease. If the test comes back negative, try a gluten-free diet for a week to see if you feel better, Leffler says.

Cutting out gluten is the most reliable way to determine if you are, in fact, sensitive to the protein -- and if you are sensitive, it's the only treatment.

However, Leffler stresses that you should get help from a dietitian to make sure that you avoid hidden sources of gluten (like soy sauce and salad dressing), and that you don't miss out on the vitamins that wheat products provide.

Even though celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Gwyneth Paltrow have reportedly cut out gluten to "detox," there's nothing inherently healthier about a gluten-free diet.

"It can be very healthy, or it can be junk food," says Dee Sandquist, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.


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