FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q. What is gluten?
A. Gluten is a protein found in the grains wheat, barley and rye.
It is also hidden in unexpected products and foods that use these grains in any form. For example, some Aveeno shampoo and lotions are wheat based, and some other cosmetics contain gluten. Barley and wheat are used in the fermentation process of most alcoholic beverages, including wine. Some processed foods contain ingredients such as modified food starch or malt, both of which are often hidden sources of gluten. Always read labels.
Q. What is the difference between gluten intolerance, celiac disease and a wheat allergy?
A. Celiac Disease is an autoimmune digestive disorder that is characterized by an inability to digest gluten. An autoimmune disorder is where the body sends a faulty message to attack itself. In this case, the small intestine is attacked and in a state of constant inflammation, causing an inability to properly digest foods and absorb nutrients. To determine if you officially have celiac, there are a variety of medical tests to be performed.
You can be gluten sensitive and not have celiac. You can diagnose yourself with this problem if you have uncomfortable symptoms that clear up when you remove gluten from your diet.
If you have a wheat allergy, this is diagnosed through blood tests, but you are not necessarily sensitive to all gluten in this case, just wheat gluten.
Q. What symptoms should I look for to know if I should avoid gluten?
A. You can never know for sure if you have celiac or a wheat allergy unless you are tested, and most people who have these conditions are not even aware of it. Many people figure out their body’s problems with gluten through an elimination diet. When gluten is removed, they just feel better. Many people don’t even know they have a “condition,” but just live with some of the following symptoms:
1. Headaches, migraines, “brain fog” (possibly resulting in learning issues)
2. Itchy skin, eczema, rashes, mouth sores
3. Chronic digestive problems that may include diarrhea, constipation, gas, acid reflux, cramping, stomach pain, bloating
4. Anemia, malnutrition due to malabsorption of nutrients
5. Osteoporosis, bone/joint pain, muscle cramps, dental enamel problems, stunted growth
6. Infertility, irregular menstruation, recurrent miscarriage
7. Chronic unexplained fatigue, weakness, irritability
8. Behavioral issues, seizures, depression, psychiatric issues
9. Diabetes, thyroid disease, liver disease
11. Non-Hodgkins lymphoma and cancer of the small intestine
You can see why gluten problems go undiagnosed so often. Just about every common medical condition is on that list and it’s uncommon to try to trace back these conditions to the actual cause without thinking they are simply a problem in their own right. If you suspect celiac or an allergy, GO TO THE DOCTOR and get tested and make a plan with your doctor to live with it in a healthy way.
Q. Is there a cure or can you outgrow celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
A. This is a short answer: no. Many young people who have a wheat allergy will outgrow it as adults, though.
Q. What is cross-contamination?
A. Cross contamination occurs when something that does not contain gluten comes in contact with gluten – often in the manufacturing or cooking process.
For example, French fries that are cooked in a restaurant in the same oil as breaded items: fish, chicken, onion rings, etc. The same spatula that has flipped wheat pancakes also flips your gluten free ones. The toaster that has toasted wheat toast for years is now used in your new gluten free diet to toast your GF bread. It takes practice not to cross contaminate in your own home, and your relatives will never get how to cook for you totally safely, no matter how hard they try. You have to be your own gluten police or the police for your child.
Q. If a GF product says “made in a facility that processes wheat” is it still gluten free and safe?
A. Some people avoid these products because they know that even a molecule of gluten will affect them negatively. Some companies work diligently to make sure their equipment is cleaned well between using gluten and non-gluten items, but some- not so much, you can never be 100% sure. Some trial and error may be in order.
Q. Are oats a gluten free food?
A. Technically, yes. Oats are gluten free. The processing very frequently cross contaminates oats, however, so they are not highly recommended for a GF diet. Certified Gluten Free Oats that are process in dedicated GF facilities are now available in some health food stores and online, but you pay for the privilege of peace of mind.
Q. What if only one member of the family must eat gluten free? Should everyone?
A. When my son went GF, I cleared a shelf in the pantry for all his gluten free cereals, snacks and flours and kept the “real” flour on the other side of the kitchen. I made 2 versions of everything, honestly, because the gluten free stuff just didn’t taste as good. My daughter would approach a plate of homemade cookies and immediately ask, “Is that gluten free?” If the answer was yes, she’d sadly walk away without any. My son was constantly asking, “Can I eat this?”
Over time, I gradually learned which mixes and products were great and how to adjust our favorite recipes so no one could tell the difference. I threw away the bread, crackers, cereal and wheat flour and now everything I cook is so great, no one has any complaints and no one ever asks, “Is that gluten free?” Instead, I proudly announce it at the end of almost every meal, “Can you believe that was ALL gluten free??” And I am absolutely sure no cross contamination will happen and my child is 100% safe eating in his own home and he knows no food here is off limits.