Gluten-free diets are all the rage. Visit any grocery store today and you will find a plethora of food choices labeled “gluten-free.” Bring up “gluten” in a group of people and there is a good chance someone has tried or is trying to avoid eating wheat. But is gluten-free for everyone?
Gluten, a protein in wheat, rye and barley, is found primarily in food but also in medicines, vitamins and even lip balms.
Certain health conditions require living without gluten. People with celiac disease, a digestive condition that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food, must completely avoid gluten. Celiac disease runs in families, is diagnosed in both children and adults and tends to occur in people with other immune disorders, such as Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune thyroiditis.
There are hundreds of possible symptoms of celiac disease, including diarrhea, weight loss, anemia and migraines. Sometimes there are no overt symptoms. Because celiac can be difficult to detect, a blood test for antibodies is needed.
Dermatitis herpetiformis, a related skin condition, also requires a gluten-free diet.
According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 3 million people suffer from celiac disease in the U.S., and many more are likely undiagnosed. In fact, as many as 5 to 10 percent of the population may have some sort of gluten sensitivity, even if they don’t actually have celiac disease.
Such people manifest a range of symptoms, from gastrointestinal to neurological, and often find they feel better when they avoid gluten. The only treatment for celiac is a gluten-free diet.
Eating gluten-free when you are not celiac or gluten sensitive is a controversial topic. People with normal digestion who go gluten-free may be missing important nutrients, such as fiber, B and D vitamins, calcium and iron. If you think you may have celiac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis or gluten sensitivity, don’t try to go gluten-free on your own. It’s important to see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis while you are still eating a normal diet.
Books provide advice on gluten-free living
Once you know you must stick to a gluten-free diet, learning more about how to change your lifestyle is key. Several books at Stanford Health Library may be helpful.
“Living Gluten-Free For Dummies” (Wiley, 2006) is a good place to start. This book is a great resource, offering readers a complete overview of all aspects of life without wheat, barley or rye. Author Danna Korn, a celiac patient who has been gluten-free since 1991, includes much of her personal experience in her story.
The book follows the familiar “Dummies” format, breaking the subject into easy-to-digest sections (no pun intended), including informative sidebars throughout and the popular “Part of Tens” lists of 10 helpful tips at the end. “Living Gluten-Free For Dummies” is full of recipes that sound delicious, along with information about planning meals, shopping and eating out sans gluten.
Another book that makes the prospect of living without gluten manageable, even appealing, is “Let’s Eat Out with Celiac/Coeliac & Food Allergies!: A Timeless Reference for Special Diets” (R & R, 2010). This book will make you hungry. It offers guidelines for dining gluten- and allergy-free in six cuisines: Mexican, Italian, American, Chinese, French and Thai. Also valuable are suggestions for snacks, breakfast and drinks; food preparation checklists; and airline, hotel and cruise travel tips.
Co-authors Kim Koeller and Robert La France bring their personal and professional expertise to the work. Koeller has celiac disease, along with other food allergies, and La France has extensive experience in the restaurant business. They say they write from “both sides of the table,” and their varied perspectives, as consumer and provider, make for interesting reading. Their collaboration has resulted in a series of award-winning “Let’s Eat Out”/“Gluten-Free Passport” books.
Both children and adults are diagnosed with celiac disease, so feeding a family without gluten can be especially challenging. “Incredible, Edible Gluten-Free Food for Kids: 150 Family-Tested Recipes” (Woodbine House, 2002) teaches parents how to prepare and serve gluten-free foods that children will enjoy.
Author Sheri L. Sanderson, mother of a celiac child, instructs readers on how to begin and maintain a no-gluten lifestyle. The book includes comfort food recipes that sound tasty, and Sanderson offers tips on handling social events that are important in children’s lives, like birthday parties.
The main branch of Stanford Health Library is located at Hoover Pavilion, 211 Quarry Road, Suite 201, Palo Alto. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
Nancy Dickenson is head librarian at Stanford Health Library. For more information, call 725-8400 or visit healthlibrary.stanford.edu.