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Gluten-free diets getting a lot of attention

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By Christina Rittenbach, NDSU Extension Service, Stutsman County

Not too long ago, the South Beach diet and Atkins were popular diet fads that many people tried out to lose weight or become healthier. Today, a gluten-free diet seems to be getting a lot of attention. Many celebrities are endorsing their new gluten-free lifestyle. Many food manufacturers are making more products that are gluten-free, or advertising those products that already were. The popularity and media attention surrounding gluten-free makes it seem like it’s just another fad, but there are good reasons why someone should go gluten-free. There are also good reasons why someone should not. Understanding why this new trend has become so popular is the first step to determining if this lifestyle is for you.

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What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein that is found in grains, such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye).

Why gluten-free?

Gluten-free diets have become more popular because of the increasing prevalence of celiac disease. Individuals with celiac disease have an abnormal immune response to gluten. When they ingest gluten, their small intestines can become damaged, decreasing nutrient absorption. Other individuals may have gluten sensitivity, where they could display some of the same symptoms as celiac disease, but a blood test for the disease comes back negative. With these individuals, a gluten-free lifestyle is important in staying healthy.

Why not gluten-free?

A gluten-free diet should not be used to try to lose weight. In fact, if you do not have celiac disease or gluten sensitivities, a gluten-free diet is really unnecessary. A gluten-free lifestyle is not easy. Gluten is in a tremendous amount of mainstream foods such as breads, crackers, cereals and sauces. Many of these foods provide us with important nutrients, such as B vitamins, folic acid and fiber. Eliminating these foods could mean eliminating needed nutrients.

Despite its portrayal in some media outlets, gluten-free is not a new fad diet. It is a lifestyle that is medically necessary for some individuals. If you are interested in pursuing a gluten-free lifestyle, you may want to discuss it with your doctor first.

For more information on healthy eating, contact Christina Rittenbach, Stutsman County Extension agent, at 252-9030 or christina.rittenbach@ndsu.edu.

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