Chances are you’ve heard about the gluten-free phenomenon that has swept across the country. It seems that wherever you look there is a new gluten-free bakery or product line. Even celebrities are joining in with everyone from Bill Clinton to Zooey Deschanel turning to a gluten-free diet.

But is it just another fad diet, or is it a lifestyle change? Should you and your family be gluten-free? We’ve answered a few of the questions we hear most often so you can decide if gluten-free is the right choice for you.

What is the difference between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that prohibits the body from being able to absorb nutrients through the small intestine when gluten is present. This condition can cause long-term damage to the lining of the small intestine, and can be very dangerous if gluten is not cut out of the diet completely. Alternatively, some people have a gluten sensitivity, which is not as severe as celiac disease, but can present some of the same symptoms, such as bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Gluten sensitivity can wreak havoc on your digestive system, so while it is not life-threatening, it is a good idea to eliminate gluten from your diet if you are experiencing those symptoms.

How can you determine if you have celiac disease or if you have gluten sensitivity?

The easiest and most effective test for celiac disease is a simple blood test that your doctor can do for you. If you have a blood test, and it is negative for celiac, it’s time to start an elimination diet to figure out if you have gluten sensitivity. Take all gluten out of your diet for at least a month or two. Take note of how your feel without gluten in your diet. Then you can slowly incorporate gluten back into your diet to see if your symptoms return. If they do, then you may want to consider eliminating gluten permanently.

Is it dangerous to go on a gluten-free diet if you don’t have gluten sensitivity?

No, it’s not dangerous to eliminate gluten from your diet if you don’t have a gluten sensitivity. For many people, eliminating gluten could also mean ridding their diet of unhealthy processed foods like white bread, sugary cereal, or cookies. As long as you are removing these items and replacing them with whole grains and naturally gluten-free foods, then you are in good shape! If you are simply switching to gluten-free versions of junk food like pizza, cookies and cupcakes, then you could be in trouble. Gluten-free processed foods tend to have even more unnatural components than their gluten counterparts.

What are some good naturally gluten-free food options?

If you would like to switch to a gluten-free diet, there are plenty of naturally gluten –free foods that you can eat.  All fresh fruits and vegetables are gluten-free. It’s important to buy organic and local when possible to avoid any cross contamination with foods that aren’t gluten-free. Meat is also gluten-free; just make sure you are seasoning it yourself to avoid any marinades or sauces that contain gluten, such as soy sauce. There are also several kinds of grains that are naturally gluten-free. Instead of bread or pasta, try any of these grains:

  • Quinoa
  • Brown Rice
  • Brown Rice pasta
  • Millet
  • Buckwheat
  • Polenta
  • Oats (make sure they are pure and uncontaminated)
  • Teff
  • Amaranth

For more ideas and information, check out our resource guide 55 Ways to Enjoy Your Gluten-Free Diet.

as posted by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition NYC