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The Gluten-Free Diet

Posted Jun 02 2009 4:39pm

A gluten-free diet means not eating foods that contain wheat (including spelt, triticale, and kamut), rye, and barley. The foods and products made from these grains are also not allowed. In other words, a person with coeliac disease should not eat most grain, pasta, cereal, and many processed foods. Despite these restrictions, people with coeliac disease can eat a well balanced diet with a variety of foods, including gluten-free bread and pasta. For example, people with coeliac disease can use potato, rice, soy, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, or bean flour instead of wheat flour. They can buy gluten-free bread, pasta, and other products from stores that carry organic foods, or order products from special food companies. Gluten-free products are increasingly available from regular stores.

Checking labels for "gluten free" is important since many corn and rice products are produced in factories that also manufacture wheat products. Hidden sources of gluten include additives such as modified food starch, preservatives, and stabilizers. Wheat and wheat products are often used as thickeners, stabilizers, and texture enhancers in foods.

"Plain" meat, fish, rice, fruits, and vegetables do not contain gluten, so people with coeliac disease can eat as much of these foods as they like. Recommending that people with coeliac disease avoid oats is controversial because some people have been able to eat oats without having symptoms. Scientists are currently studying whether people with coeliac disease can tolerate oats. Until the studies are complete, people with coeliac disease should follow their physician's or dietitian's advice about eating oats. Examples of foods that are safe to eat and those that are not are provided in the table below.

The gluten-free diet is challenging. It requires a completely new approach to eating that affects a person's entire life. Newly diagnosed people and their families may find support groups to be particularly helpful as they learn to adjust to a new way of life. People with coeliac disease have to be extremely careful about what they buy for lunch at school or work, what they purchase at the grocery store, what they eat at restaurants or parties, or what they grab for a snack. Eating out can be a challenge. If a person with coeliac disease is in doubt about a menu item, ask the waiter or chef about ingredients and preparation, or if a gluten-free menu is available.

Gluten is also used in some medications. One should check with the pharmacist to learn whether medications used contain gluten. Since gluten is also sometimes used as an additive in unexpected products, it is important to read all labels. If the ingredients are not listed on the product label, the manufacturer of the product should provide the list upon request. With practice, screening for gluten becomes second nature.

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