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Celiac Disease

Going Gluten-Free: A Mayo Clinic Expert Explains The Most Common Myths

Misinformation abounds when it comes to celiac disease and gluten-free eating. But an estimated 1 in 141 Americans has celiac disease, and countless more may be sensitive to gluten. Unfortunately, many people with celiac disease are misdiagnosed or do not know they have the condition because its symptoms are often varied and subtle. Moreover, “gluten-free” has become a very common term in our society, appearing on food packages and menus everywhere. Some may view it as a fad, but celiac disease and related conditions are serious- and confusing!

There is a lot of gluten hype and misleading advice. Here, Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist Joseph A. Murray, M.D., author of the new book, Mayo Clinic Going Gluten-Free, now available nationwide (http://www.amazon.com/Mayo-Clinic-Going-Gluten-Free/dp/0848743881), weighs in on some of the top gluten myths that exist and sets the facts straight:

MYTH: I was born with celiac disease. Although you might be born with a genetic susceptibility to celiac disease, the condition doesn’t develop until you ingest gluten, and perhaps not even then. Some people develop celiac disease within the first year of life when they drink gluten-containing formula or eat cereal. Others don’t develop it until their adult years — the disease can develop even in late adulthood. And still others never seem to be affected by it, even though they carry the requisite genes and they eat gluten. It’s not clear why some people develop celiac and others don’t, even though they’re genetically predisposed. Why the timing of onset can differ so much from one person to the next is another million-dollar question.

MYTH: If it’s gluten-free, it’s good for me. Just because something is gluten-free doesn’t automatically make it healthy, especially when it comes to processed foods. In fact, gluten-free products may be less healthy if they’re low in fiber or made with non-fortified ingredi¬ents that don’t contain the same amount of vitamins and minerals that wheat-containing products do. In addition, they may be high in fat or sugar in an effort to make up for any lack of flavor or texture.

When following a gluten-free diet, you still need to make sure that it adheres to the basic rules of healthy eating. Whole foods such as fruits and vegetables that are naturally gluten-free and also abundant in antioxidants, vitamins and other essential nutrients are a great choice for anyone. And there are a variety of healthy whole grains that don’t contain gluten, such as rice, corn, quinoa and buckwheat, to name a few. But when it comes to processed foods, it’s still important to read the nutrition label, regardless of whether it says it’s gluten-free or not.

MYTH: If it doesn’t bother me, it’s OK to eat it. If you have celiac disease, it may only take a few microscopic gluten particles to set off an immune reaction that can inflame and damage your gut. Sensi¬tivity to ingestion of gluten varies among individuals. However, inflammatory changes in the intestine don’t always correlate directly with gastrointestinal symptoms. So even though you might feel fine, that doesn’t mean that damage isn’t occurring. The more damage that occurs and the longer the small intestine remains unhealed, the greater the complications that may develop, such as osteoporosis or intestinal cancer.

MYTH: If it makes me sick, it must have gluten in it. When your intestine is damaged, even when you eat foods that don’t contain gluten you can still experience symptoms. The inflammation in your small intestine makes it difficult to digest certain foods. One example is lactose in dairy products. Often times, people with celiac disease are lactose intolerant as well.

For more tips and to learn how to manage a gluten-free lifestyle and live healthy lives,check out Mayo Clinic Going Gluten Free.