Miley Cyrus rocked the boat this week when she denied anorexia nervosa defending her new low weight, claiming instead to have a gluten allergy. The actress-musician also followed up with another tweet saying everyone should try to go gluten-free for a week, stating, “The change in your skin, physical and mental health is amazing! U won’t go back!”
Whether or not the singer/actor is struggling with disordered eating is another debate, but one thing is sure – gluten free diet is for medical purposes only and not for dieting.
What is gluten, anyway? And what is the skinny on gluten-free diet?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains, such as oats, barley and rye. It’s the substance that gives elasticity to dough and also helps it to rise and gives bread that chewy texture. It’s what makes bread really good.
Some people cannot tolerate gluten and have an actual allergic response. Celiac disease is an immune response that causes the body to react to gluten as a foreign invader, causing damage to the lining of the intestines. Symptoms can vary but may include abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. There may even be some none gastrointestinal symptoms as well including fatigue among other symptoms. Those individuals are encouraged to go on a gluten-free diet.
You may have heard your friends talking about going on a gluten-free diet as a means to lose weight. In reality, this weight loss is a result of a diet lower in processed starches and higher in fruits and vegetables (always a good idea) – not by cutting out gluten. The truth is people with celiac disease who go on a gluten free diet may actually gain weight because they’ve restored their intestine’s ability to absorb necessary foods and nutrients. Also gluten-free food is not necessarily lighter in calories, as you might think! Less bread or pasta can mean more cheese or chocolate. Before making any extreme changes to your diet you should always contact your doctor or seek the advice of a Registered Dietitian.
Gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance?
Does everyone who is affected by gluten have celiac? Actually, no. There are some people who test negative for celiac disease, but still complain of reacting poorly to gluten. Researchers describe this gluten sensitivity as something distinct from celiac disease – mainly because the intestine doesn’t appear damaged, yet the patient may still suffer many of the same symptoms. It’s estimated that 1% of the population has celiac, but as much as 10% may have gluten sensitivity!
Curious about testing? Celiac disease can be diagnosed through a blood test and an intestinal biopsy that shows damage to the villi. However, there’s no reliable test for gluten sensitivity. The intestine remains normal in appearance, so even a biopsy isn’t useful. Usually a detailed history of symptoms will help your doctor diagnose gluten sensitivity.
If you are advised to follow a gluten free diet what should you avoid:
You probably know by now you can find gluten in many other products besides the obvious – it is best to check ingredient lists and always avoid wheat, oats, barley, rye and triticale, bulgur, durum flour, farina, graham flour, kamut, semolina and spelt. It’s also best to avoid beer, breads, cakes and pies, cookies and crackers, gravies, matzo, some salad dressings and soy sauce. Cross-contamination can occur when gluten-free foods come into contact with foods that contain gluten – so check your labels!
Gluten Free Grains
I’m gluten free. Anything I need to worry about?
Those who go on a gluten-free diet may be missing out on essential nutrients like fiber, folate, niacin and zinc. Be sure to check with your doctor or dietitian before making the switch – and to be certain it’s for all the right reasons. A great resource is a book called The Gluten Free Diet – A Comprehensive Resource Guide by Shelley Case, which you can find here:
If you’re concerned you have a gluten intolerance or allergy, make an appointment at Student Health and then meet with a Student Health dietitian.