A Media Article: Gluten-free diet treats medical conditions,not weight loss
[URL="http://lubbockonline.com/health/2012-09-26/local-health-experts-gluten-free-diet-treats-medical-conditions-not-weight-loss#.UGWJAItv2bI"]Local health experts: gluten-free diet treats medical conditions, not weight loss | Lubbock Online | Lubbock Avalanche-Journal[/URL]
[B]Posted:[/B] September 26, 2012 - 5:04pm | [B]Updated:[/B] September 27, 2012 - 12:22am By [URL="http://lubbockonline.com/authors/brittany-hoover"]BRITTANY HOOVER[/URL] AVALANCHE-JOURNAL
When Lubbock resident Robin Hawkins was diagnosed with celiac disease four years ago, she was dumbfounded.
Hawkins, a registered dietician and director of health and wellness for United Supermarkets, did not realize the food she ate was the root of her health issues.
She had experienced tiredness, skin rashes, severe migraines and severe stomach problems for years. Physicians believed her thyroid condition was causing the symptoms.
But after five years of wrong answers, an alternative physician in Dallas did some tests and found Hawkins had celiac disease. Eating the tiniest bit of gluten, or food cross-contaminated with gluten, was making her sick.
“I was completely shocked because I am a dietician, and I just didn’t realize what I was putting in my mouth was causing me so many problems,” Hawkins said. “It proved to me how important food is. Yes, I have celiac disease, but I’m so lucky I have a disease I control myself.
I choose what I eat. ... I need to read a label or check ingredients for every single thing I put in mouth.”
What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The damage is caused by a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in grains like wheat, barley and rye.
The library’s website states the exact cause of the disease is unknown. The lining of the intestines contains areas called villi, which aid in the absorbtion of nutrients. When people with celiac disease eat foods or use products that contain gluten, their immune system reacts by damaging these villi.
This damage affects the ability to absorb nutrients properly. A person becomes malnourished, no matter how much food he or she eats.
Nearly one out of every 133 Americans suffers from celiac disease, according to a study by the The University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research in Baltimore. The disease can develop at any point in life, from infancy to late adulthood.
Why eat gluten free?
Nora Limas, a registered dietician with the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, said people with celiac disease are required to eat a gluten-free diet.
According to the Mayo Clinic, many healthy foods, such as beans, fresh eggs, fresh meats, fruits, vegetables and most dairy products are naturally gluten-free. Some grains and starches, like cornmeal, quinoa, rice and soy, can be part of a gluten-free diet.
Limas said she would not recommend a gluten-free diet for treating other health problems because it is so restrictive.
“There’s a lot of different foods that have gluten in them that you wouldn’t think had (gluten),” Limas said. “A lot of processed foods have gluten in them — all your breads, cereals, pastas, cakes. These are used by manufacturers to improve the taste, texture and structure of foods.”
People with a gluten intolerance also avoid the protein, Limas said. They may not be diagnosed with celiac
disease, but they still experience abdominal discomfort when they eat foods with gluten in them.
Covenant Health gastroenterologist Dr. William Shaver said he sometimes recommends avoiding wheat if a patient is having nonspecific symptoms such as bloating.
“I think generally as Americans, we spent all these years on low fat diets, and we all got fatter,” Shaver said.
“(There’s a growing belief) it’s the carbohydrates we eat. ... White bread is one. I think overall we’d be healthier if we ate a lot less wheats. I eat a lot less carbs anyway.”
Some gluten-free products are more expensive, Limas said.
Stacie Cobb, manager of the natural living department at Sprouts Farmers Market, said the store offers several gluten-free items, including pasta, cookies and baking mixes. Even condiments, vitamins and drinks are offered in a gluten-free variety, she said.
Most of Sprouts’ gluten-free customers are treating allergies or celiac disease, Cobb said. She has worked with the company for several years and said she has noticed a definite growth in gluten-free products and shoppers.
“I don’t know of very many people who say, ‘I’m going to go gluten-free this month,’ ” Cobb said. “It is very trendy. There’s a school of thought going around that the reason gluten intolerance is so prevalent now is because of how they grow wheat products. How they grow it is not responsible. They fill it with pesticides. They overtax the soils.”
‘Another fad diet’
Shaver said he also has heard the belief that wheat today is so genetically altered that it’s not good for the human body.
He said avoiding wheat for these reasons is not harmful to the body, but a full gluten-free diet is difficult to maintain.
Limas said she has some patients who have told her they are on a gluten-free diet to lose weight.
Eating gluten-free can be incorrectly associated with losing weight because the diet cuts down carbohydrates and processed foods, she said.
“It’s just another fad diet, really,” Limas said. “A lot of gluten-free products actually have more calories, more sugar, more fat to improve the taste. It’s really difficult to comply to the diet because there are so many products that have gluten in them. You have to take time out to read the ingredients. ...
“I think they associate ‘gluten-free’ with your typical products you see out there like ‘fat-free’ or ‘sugar-free.’ It’s
almost like they categorize it the same way. It’s really not something that’s going to help them lose weight.”
As a dietician, Hawkins said she can’t say eating gluten-free is scientifically proven to help with weight loss.
As a person with celiac disease, she said the gluten-free diet trend is frustrating. In restaurants, for instance, Hawkins can become sick if her salad includes traces of croutons, or if she eats from a plate that had a piece of bread on it.
“When people eat like that and go to a restaurant and eat gluten-free, the restaurant (can) get away with picking the croutons off,” she said. “It gives the restaurant a false sense of security when they don’t make them change their gloves or follow precautions.”
Although Limas understands how someone could lose weight on a gluten-free diet, she doesn’t recommend eating gluten-free for people who do not suffer from celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
“I just feel that gluten-free should be looked at as more as medical necessity for patients that have celiac disease,” she said. “If you’re trying to lose weight, try to cut back on your portions: exercise, deal with it the old fashion way. It’s really not a necessity to eliminate gluten from your diet if you don’t have a disease like celiac.”
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