Vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, raw, South Beach, Atkins, low-carb, no-carb, juicing, Zone, Mediterranean and gluten-free. These are a few of the lifestyle diets that are a part of the current trends in what and how to eat.

You probably know someone who is eating gluten-free, either by choice or due to medical recommendation. But before you cut the glutens, you should know the facts.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a hereditary immune disorder. People with celiac disease can’t digest gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Their bodies overreact to gluten, and their immune systems attack the lining of the small intestines.

This condition can get worse over time, causing the body to have difficulty absorbing the nutrients in food. That can lead to malnutrition.

Some symptoms of celiac disease include:

  • Stomach pain, gas and diarrhea
  • Feeling very tired
  • Losing weight

The symptoms of celiac disease can vary from person to person. How severe it is and how long it lasts also varies by person.

Doctors can diagnose the disease based on symptoms, a blood test and a biopsy of the small intestine. There is no cure for celiac disease. The only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet.

Gluten Sensitivity

Some people experience symptoms similar to those of celiac disease, but they don’t have the intestinal damage Celiac disease causes. This condition is called gluten sensitivity or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

More research about gluten intolerance is needed, but avoiding foods with gluten can help relieve symptoms. 

How Can You Avoid Gluten?

Bread, cereals and pastas often have gluten. It can also appear in foods like luncheon meats, soy sauce, seafood, vinegar and sauces.

If you need to avoid gluten, make sure to read food labels. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set standards for gluten-free claims on food labels. But the FDA also recommends that if you have questions about a particular product, you should contact the manufacturer or look for information on the company’s website.

The gluten in your diet can be replaced with gluten-free grain and flours, including rice, corn, soy, tapioca, beans, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, nut flours and more. Fresh fruits and vegetables, beef, chicken, fish, lamb, pork, and pure dairy products are also gluten-free.

Who Needs to Avoid Gluten?

Although only about 1 percent of the U.S. population has celiac disease, a growing number of Americans are following a gluten-free diet.

Many people put themselves on a gluten-free diet without talking to their doctor. Some hope to ease stomach ailments like irritable bowel syndrome, get rid of bloating or improve conditions like diabetes or arthritis. Some people look to gluten-free diet to lose weight and to eat “clean.”

But there isn’t yet specific evidence that shows avoiding gluten helps these problems or leads to weight loss. In fact, some people may gain weight when trying to avoid gluten because extra sugar and fat may be added to gluten-free foods to improve taste.

And eliminating the gluten grains may deprive your diet of nutrients you need, like folate, vitamin A, calcium and other vitamins and minerals. This can put people, especially children, at risk for health issues.

Talk to your doctor if you have the symptoms of celiac disease or are concerned about your digestion. If you do need to follow a gluten-free diet, your doctor or registered dietitian can help make sure you’re getting enough nutrients.