(ARA) — Does the thought of a big bowl of pasta fill you with dread? Not because of the calories, but because of the digestive discomfort you might experience after eating it? If so, you may be one of the millions of Americans who unknowingly live with gluten intolerance.
Simply put, gluten intolerance is the body’s inability to digest a certain type of protein commonly found in products made from wheat, rye and barley, such as pasta, cereal and bread. Mild gluten intolerance can cause minor to severe symptoms, ranging from mild intestinal discomfort to fatigue, weight gain and even depression. Severe gluten intolerance is called Celiac disease, and if left untreated can cause debilitating problems and perhaps worse. Because people with Celiac disease cannot digest gluten, the protein sits in the intestines, often triggering an immune system reaction that damages the lining of the small intestine.
“We know that Celiac disease is more prevalent than previously thought, affecting nearly 1 percent of the U.S. population, and remains under-diagnosed,” according to Dr. Griffin Rodgers, former acting director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, who was quoted in a National Institutes of Health (NIH) newsletter a few years ago.
WebMD reports that 3 million people may have the disease, and many may be unaware of it because the disease can be difficult to diagnose. Gluten intolerance and Celiac disease are on the rise, health experts agree. And many people don’t even know they have the problem. Common symptoms include recurring, unexplained gas, diarrhea and intestinal distress. Only a doctor can diagnose gluten intolerance for certain, so consult your health-care provider if you suspect you have a problem. And changing your diet can help alleviate symptoms.
“Following a gluten-free diet will stop symptoms, heal existing intestinal damage and prevent further damage for most people with (Celiac disease),” the NIH reports. “Improvements usually begin within days of eliminating gluten.”
One way to rid your diet of gluten is to give up anything made with grains that contain it. That hasn’t always been so easy to do, however, because gluten is present in many processed foods, including some that may surprise you, such as cold cuts, salad dressings, flavored potato chips and even beer, WebMD says.
“Gluten gives bread its elasticity and chewy texture by trapping the gases released during fermentation in the dough,” says Gary Torres of Food for Life. “Once gluten is removed from dough, the resulting bread can be dense, dry and unappealing. We design our gluten-free products to be moist and flavorful; our gluten-free English muffins have the same moisture content — approximately 40 percent — as conventional English muffins. The result is a gluten-free product that will exceed your expectations.”
In addition to eliminating products made with grains that contain gluten, or substituting gluten-free products, those living with gluten intolerance may also increase other grains in their diets, including quinoa, buckwheat, popcorn, cornmeal and millet. NIH recommends you work with your doctor and a dietitian experienced with Celiac disease to create a meal plan that will help you eliminate gluten from your diet.
“People with celiac disease need to eliminate gluten for the rest of their lives, not just until they’re healed,” NIH says. “Eating any gluten, no matter how little, can damage your small intestine again, whether or not you have noticeable symptoms. Newly diagnosed people and their families may find support groups helpful as they all learn to adjust to this new way of life. With practice, looking for gluten becomes second nature.”