An Update on “Gluten Free”

Michael J. Racca, PT, MSPT

Michael J. Racca, PT, MSPT

with Michael Racca, MSPT, CEAS

Several years after the term Gluten Free hit the list of today’s trends, it is still a term of much debate. Not only has it remained a frequent topic of dietary discussion in blogs, magazines and on TV, but it has also recently been regulated by the FDA.

The Recap for those late to the game is: Gluten (Latin for glue) is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It gives elasticity to dough, helps it rise, keep shape, and gives a product a chewy texture. Unfortunately for people with celiac disease, gluten can trigger an immune response with mild symptoms ranging from headaches and fatigue, to more severe intestinal distress and damage. Celiac disease affects 1 in 133 people and allergic reactions triggered from eating even a small amount of gluten can be severe enough to be life-threatening. People with celiac disease simply cannot tolerate gluten. Initially diagnosed by a process of elimination, celiac disease can now be identified by a blood test. If you think you might have celiac disease, it’s best to see a doctor before going gluten free. Once you avoided gluten for a while, it becomes more difficult to diagnose celiac disease accurately.

In 2011 a panel of celiac experts concluded that there is also a condition now being called “Non-celiac gluten sensitivity”. While celiac disease affects approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population, experts estimate that up to 10 percent may have symptoms related to this less understood gluten sensitivity. Experts now believe that celiac disease represents one end of the spectrum of gluten intolerance, but millions of people may have a gluten sensitivity.

So why go “Gluten-Free”?

A variety of health benefits ranging from weight loss to reduced symptoms of inflammation to improved sleep have been discussed as reasons to go gluten free. As always, you should consult a physician with regard to any medical conditions that could be affected by a change in your diet. For the otherwise healthy individual not diagnosed with celiac disease, the best reason to try a gluten free diet may simply be to see how your body reacts and if you feel better. Since gluten free diets tend to eliminate an abundance of processed foods, simply avoiding gluten can lead to eating more fresh and natural whole foods containing fewer ingredients and preservatives. Meats, fish, and poultry should always be eaten fresh, without the preservatives that can be a hidden source of gluten. To maintain the necessary amount of fiber in your diet which may typically be obtained from wheat based products, other sources of fiber such as brown rice, quinoa, fruits, vegetables, and beans, can be enjoyed without having to worry about whether or not they contain gluten. After eliminating gluten, assess what has changed for you. Did you lose weight or experience an increase in energy? Do you feel less sluggish after meals? Are you sleeping better? Have your allergies improved? These are just a few examples of what people are reporting.

While the debate continues about the benefits of a gluten free diet, one thing to consider is that there is no danger in going gluten free for those without celiac disease. Just be careful about what you are eating and what is replacing the gluten. Some packaged and processed gluten free foods and beverages can be high in carbs and calories and may not be any healthier that those labeled “fat free”.

Despite the controversy currently being researched and disputed over the benefits of a gluten free diet for those without celiac disease, a significant enough demand has developed for gluten free food options that supermarkets, restaurants and even food franchises are now offering gluten free options. Even the Girl Scouts are now offering a gluten free chocolate chip cookie.

How to avoid Gluten . . . it just got easier

Avoiding gluten may require giving up more than beer, bread and pizza. Gluten may also be present in less obvious products such as sausage, soy sauce, ketchup, and ice cream that use it as a stabilizing agent or binder. Because gluten can be hidden in many other products, including vitamin and mineral supplements, following a gluten free diet was previously much more difficult. Remember, many additives including those “natural or artificial flavorings” can contain gluten, and wheat free does not mean gluten free.

But, in August of 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a regulation that defines the term “gluten-free” for food labeling. This new definition provides consumers the assurance that “gluten-free” claims on food products are consistent and reliable across the food industry. Manufacturers have until August of 2014 to bring their labels into compliance, to allow sufficient time to make whatever changes are needed in the formulation or labeling of their foods bearing a gluten-free claim. After August 2014, a food that is labeled “gluten-free” but fails to meet the requirements of the regulation will be subject to regulatory action by FDA.

Elite Health Services, located in Old Greenwich, (and now Westport!) CT is a world-class provider of certified functional manual physical therapy, personal fitness, golf & triathlon performance training, massage therapy and wellness related services.  Our team of highly skilled and dedicated professionals take a no-excuses approach to providing exceptional care and delivering exceptional results. To learn more visit

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