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Pro Tips: 5 questions with a gluten-free expert

It seems that the term gluten free is everywhere these days, but what does it mean?

We asked Kristin Humes, health and wellness adviser for Martin’s Super Markets, to explain what causes gluten intolerance and celiac disease, and why we’ve been hearing so much about it lately.

Gluten Free Expo
11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Saturday, March 14
Martin’s Super Market, 2081 South Bend Ave., South Bend

11:30 a.m. workshop with Tracy Pfaffenburger, RDN, CD, on the basics of shopping and eating out on a gluten free diet.
1:30 p.m. workshop with Jeannie Derrow, RNC-NIC, on the difference between celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

Workshops will happen in the Side Door Suite on the second floor of the Side Door Deli, and seating is limited.

A free event at Martin’s Super Market (S.R. 23 and Ironwood Drive) this Saturday, March 14, aims to answer even more questions about eating gluten free.

Visit the Gluten Free Expo to explore gluten free products from a wide range of brands, and catch workshops from gluten free experts on the basics (and science) of gluten intolerance and celiac disease.

Flavor 574: How can someone tell whether he/she has a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease?

Kristin Humes: This condition is genetic, so if an immediate family member has celiac disease, the chance that you may have it increases. For the general American public, it is estimated that 1 in 133 Americans have celiac disease. If you have an immediate family member with celiac disease, that statistic increases to 1 in 22.

It is estimated that only 5 percent of people with celiac disease have been diagnosed.

A few general symptoms of celiac disease include stomach pain, diarrhea, fatigue, joint pain, weight loss and development of an itchy skin rash. There are numerous other symptoms that may occur, and they vary from person to person.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. Following a gluten free diet may cause relief from symptoms fairly quickly, but the only way to properly diagnose celiac disease involves a blood test to look for high levels of certain autoantibodies and a biopsy of tissue from the small intestine.

What causes celiac disease? Are there ways to avoid developing it?

Other than the genetic component, it is still unclear what causes celiac disease. Environment may also be a factor. For example, infections, surgery, pregnancy and severe stress may trigger changes in the gene make of a person’s small intestine. That change may then trigger an abnormal immune system response to gluten.

Because it is still unknown what causes celiac disease, there is no definite answer in ways to avoid developing it.

Some people go gluten-free voluntarily — what is the reasoning behind that? 

Some people have chosen to follow a gluten free diet for a variety of reasons. A common thought amongst the American public is that following a gluten free diet is healthier and may promote weight loss. There have been numerous celebrities and social media figures who have promoted a gluten free diet, turning it into a fad diet.

It is important to keep in mind that following a gluten free diet doesn’t automatically make the foods you consume healthier. A cookie is still a cookie, regardless of whether it contains gluten. Remember, gluten free foods can still be processed and can be high in fat, calories and added sugars.

The weight loss that many people experience, making them think it is related to the gluten free diet, is usually contributed to eating healthier overall.

It is important to keep in mind that following a gluten free diet doesn’t automatically make the foods you consume healthier.

Following a gluten free diet does involve commitment and thought into what you are putting into your body. In general, this extra focus on diet choices typically results in a healthier diet, causing the desired weight loss.

So even if you don’t have celiac disease, following a general healthy diet with limited processed foods would cause similar results.

Most of our wheat-based grains, like bread and pasta products, have been fortified with vitamins and minerals. This fortification is often lacking in gluten free products. So, when following a gluten free diet, it is important to ensure that you are still obtaining those nutrients — most commonly missing are thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate.

Overall, a gluten free diet is not recommended as a means to eat healthier or lose weight if you are not diagnosed with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. Always consult your doctor before starting any diet.

Get help shopping gluten free with free grocery stores hosted by Martin’s Super Markets health and wellness adviser Kristin Humes.

South Bend: 2081 South Bend Ave., South Bend
10 a.m. or 6 p.m. Monday, March 16

Elkhart: 3900 East Bristol St., Elkhart
10 a.m. or 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 18

Why am I hearing so much about this recently?

A lot of the reason you have been hearing about celiac disease recently is because of the fad effect, especially around alleged weight loss benefits of a gluten free diet.

Celiac disease has been around for over 2,000 years, from between 9000 and 4000 BC, when wheat began being cultivated as a source of food. There is still a lot of research that needs to be done on the disease, especially in relation to potential causes.

Avoiding bread is obvious, but what other foods should I be wary of?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, so following a gluten free diet means elimination of all wheat, rye and barley products.

The only treatment for celiac disease is to eat a gluten free diet. There are plenty of foods that are naturally gluten-free including fruits, vegetables, beef, poultry, fish, nuts and eggs.

Cross-contamination is a factor that those with celiac disease need to be aware of. Many manufacturing plants process numerous products within their facilities, some of which may include gluten based products. Label reading is key when following a gluten free diet.

If you live in a home with others who consume gluten products, cross-contamination can also occur within your kitchen. It is important to ensure that separate cooking utensils and certain appliances be purchased to prevent cross-contamination. One of the most common sources of cross-contamination in the kitchen is using the same toaster to toast gluten free and gluten containing breads.

Do you have more questions about eating gluten free? Leave a note in the comments and we’ll find answers for you.

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