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Separating Fact From Myth: The Gluten-Free Diet

Do you or someone you know have a wheat intolerance? For those who need to follow a gluten-free diet, simply removing wheat from one's food choices can be easier said than done. Despite the plethora of gluten-free foods available on the market today, it can still be difficult for someone to effectively eliminate wheat from their diet, especially in situations where food is not labelled clearly.

To get the lowdown on the gluten-free lifestyle, we spoke with Lisa Dorfman, MS, RD, CSSD and LMHC, a performance nutritionist and the director of the graduate program for Nutrition for Health & Human Performance at the University of Miami in Florida. Dorfman is the author of the upcoming book "Performance Nutrition for Tackling Stress," and her website is Food Fitness International.

What is the difference between gluten intolerance and celiac disease?

It all comes down to a blood test. According to the Mayo Clinic, people with celiac disease will test positive for elevated levels of certain antibodies in their blood, as "their immune systems may be recognizing gluten as a foreign substance and producing elevated levels of antibodies to get rid of it." According to Dorfman, those with gluten intolerance will not test positive, but will still share the same symptoms as those with celiac disease.

Cutting out gluten from your diet can have noticeable differences and benefits if you suffer from gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Dorfman noted that following a gluten-free diet can "bring symptom relief for those who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity." According to Dorfman, those symptoms can include abdominal cramping, gas, constipation, diarrhea, muscle cramps, mouth sores, rash, hypoglycemia, weight loss or obesity, tingling, joint pain and missed menstrual periods for women.

Following a gluten-free diet can pose challenges, especially as gluten-free food can be expensive. However, Dorfman added that tweaking a diet to make it gluten-free can have a substantial effect on someone. "Cutting out gluten can be life changing and can also make someone's life more comfortable," she said. If you think you might have a gluten intolerance, consider consulting a doctor or licensed nutritionist to get yourself on a gluten-free diet.

How can consumers ensure they are purchasing gluten-free products? The Gluten-Free Certification Organization, a program of The Gluten Intolerance Group, inspects products trying to seek certification as gluten-free. Its logo is used to signify that a food product meets the organization's standards for being gluten-free, making it easier for consumers to identify food that is compatible with their diet.

For many consumers, trying to stick to a gluten-free diet no longer requires a trip to a specialty grocery store. Dorfman said that large grocery store chains around the country are increasingly offering gluten-free products, making it easier for consumers to make the correct food selection for their diet.

However, the possibility for cross-contamination still exists. For example, an item in a restaurant advertised as gluten-free may come into contact with food with gluten, like whole-wheat pasta, or may contain a sauce with wheat.

Dorfman also explained that individuals who need to follow a gluten-free diet have varying degrees of tolerance when it comes to eating the occasional food with gluten. For instance, someone with celiac disease will likely have a resurgence of uncomfortable symptoms if they have any food items with wheat in them. On the other hand, someone who is simply cutting down or eliminating how much gluten they eat may be able to tolerate some food with wheat in it, such as a cookie or a slice of pizza. When in doubt, stick to items that are known to be gluten-free when dining out, like fresh fruits and vegetables.

Megan Horst-Hatch is a mother, runner, baker, gardener, knitter, and other words that end in "-er." She loves nothing more than a great cupcake, and writes at I'm a Trader Joe's Fan. Her work can be found at

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