When I was starting my career as a dietitian, celiac disease was a rare occurrence. Today, it seems like lots of athletes report they have celiac disease and need to avoid gluten, the protein in wheat that creates health problems. Data suggests about 1% of the population now has celiac. The disease is appearing in countries like Finland where it historically has been very uncommon.
While no one is certain why this is happening, one theory is we are growing wheat that has a higher gluten content (to make a better-textured bread). For some people, the higher gluten content triggers an aggressive immune response that damages the intestines and generates an inflammatory response that makes the person feels lousy. Some suffer from diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, or other gastro-intestinal issues. Others don’t realize they have celiac until they experience iron-deficiency anemia. (When the intestines get damaged from the inflammation, they cannot absorb iron.) Otehrs have stress fractures, due to poor calcium-absorption.
If you have digestion issues and suspect celiac, do NOT go on a gluten-free diet without first talking to your doctor and getting a blood test to rule-out celiac. Otherwise, the absence of gluten in your diet will alter the test results. Skipping the blood test means you might miss out on other problems, like Crohn’s disease, ulcer, or colon cancer.
If you know that eating a gluten-free diet is best for your body, take solace in the fact that fruits, vegetables, beans, lean protein, lowfat dairy foods (milk, yogurt, cheese) are all naturally gluten-free, as are rice, potato, sweet potato, and corn. You might want to try gluten-free products, such as brown rice pasta. There are many options in today’s supermarket, but be cautious: “gluten free” does not always mean “healthier”!
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