Do You Need Gluten-Free?

A jug of wine, NO loaf of bread, and thou?

See me explain how a gluten-free diet may do more harm than good on ABC-7
This article appeared in The Huffington Post
Hear me – and three other experts – discuss “The Gluten-Free Craze” on National Public Radio’s The Diane Rehm Show

It’s all the rage right now; in fact, you may be thinking of going on a gluten-free diet. Before you do, here are some things to think about:  First, you are likely to miss out on critical nutrients and health benefits only gained with gluten-containing whole grains.

Second, a gluten-free diet is a therapeutic diet for those with debilitating celiac disease, a serious auto-immune disorder which virtually destroys the intestinal tract. But celiac only affects about 1% of the population.

Third, the danger of self-diagnosing and taking gluten out of your diet prematurely is that you will would never be able to get an accurate diagnosis of your symptoms. An intestinal biopsy is the only way to detect celiac definitively.

People try a gluten-free diet because they are overweight, feel tired, bloated, and/or depressed, and find reducing gluten correlates with feeling better or losing weight. But that is more likely because they’ve cut out excess calories found in many flour-based snack foods and they mistakenly attribute feeling better to taking out the gluten. So, before you rush into a gluten-free diet, why not try something simple, say, an apple…  or exercise? Or would you prefer a life of no bread, pasta or birthday cakes? It’s a tough row to hoe, and I’m here if you need me, as studies have found gluten-free diets can be seriously nutrient-deficient, low in fiber, iron, folate, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, calcium, B12, phosphorus, and zinc. That’s because so many “gluten-free” products are made with refined, unenriched grains and starches, which contain plenty of calories, but very few vitamins and minerals.

The new gluten-free industry is making millions from Americans’ desperation to feel better. There has been an explosion of gluten-free junk foods, and I hope you don’t become a victim.

But I have great news… many clients have thought they might need a gluten-free diet, but when we worked together at improving their nutrition and life balance, symptoms vanished! Perhaps that could be you?

If you take the following steps and find you do need a gluten-free diet, it can fill all your nutritional requirements, but only if done CAREFULLY…

Do You Need A Gluten-Free Diet? A Step-by-Step Guide

1. Have a complete check-up with your family physician,

2. Consult with appropriate specialists, such as an allergist for wheat allergy and a gastroenterologist for celiac or another GI disease,

A. If you have a wheat allergy, you must avoid wheat, but you do not have to avoid gluten from other grains,

B. If you have celiac disease, you must  avoid gluten – even the tiniest amounts (you must be eating gluten for the diagnosis to be made),

3. If you do not have a wheat allergy or celiac, visit a registered dietitian to verify that you are eating a balanced diet with plenty of nutrient-dense, naturally fiber-rich foods and adequate physical activity. A healthy diet and lifestyle reduces negative gastrointestinal symptoms, inflammation, boosts the immune system, improves brain function, reduces depression, and anxiety. If you are overweight, lose weight, as body fat can be toxic and produces hormones and pro-inflammatory chemicals which regulate metabolism, the immune system, inflammation, and the progression of artery hardening, so that when you have less body fat, you get many biological benefits, and feel better,

4. If symptoms persist, though in most cases they do not, you may be one of the rare people who are “gluten sensitive,” though hopefully not, as it’s a tough life. To confirm the diagnosis, and if a gluten-free diet is absolutely necessary for you – even though a gastroenterologist has verified you do not have celiac disease - visit your gastroenterologist, or the University of Maryland’s “Center for Celiac Research,” where they specialize in, among other things, detecting “gluten sensitivity,” which may be a newly identified disorder.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein in wheat and some other grains, such as rye and barley.  A gluten experiment in Food Science at the University of Maryland left a lasting impression on me about the function and importance of gluten. I kneaded bread dough under flowing water. As I kneaded the dough, the starch slowly washed away. What remained was a rubbery mass – the gluten – the protein in wheat which gives bread its structure.

Gluten-Containing Foods

Barley, Bulgur, Cereal Binding, Couscous, Durum, Einkorn, Emmer, Filler, Farro,  Graham Flour, Kamut, Malt, Malt Extract, Malt Flavoring, Malt Syrup, Oats which are not labeled “Gluten-Free” because they have been contaminated by gluten in the field or in the processing plant, Rye, Semolina, Spelt, Triticale, Wheat, Wheat Bran, Wheat Germ, Wheat Starch, and others…

Naturally Gluten-Free Whole Grains

Brown Rice, Whole Corn, Gluten-Free Oats, Millet, Teff, Sorghum, Wild Rice, Buckwheat, Amaranth, and Quinoa.

Wheat Allergy

WA is  an adverse immunologic reaction to wheat proteins, a classic food allergy affecting the skin, gastrointestinal tract or respiratory tract.*

Celiac Disease

CD is an immune-mediated enteropathy (intestinal disease) triggered by the ingestion of gluten in susceptible individuals. The onset of symptoms is usually gradual and characterized by a time lag of months or years after gluten introduction.*

Gluten Sensitivity

When both allergic (WA) and autoimmune mechanisms (CD) have been ruled out (diagnosis by exclusion criteria), individuals who experience distress when ingesting gluten may be considered as having GS.*

*“Spectrum of gluten-related disorders: consensus on new nomenclature and classification,” BMC Medicine 2012, 10:13 doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-13; Sapone, Bai, Ciacci, Dolinsek, Green, Hadjivassiliou, Kaukinen, Rostami, Sander, Schumann, Ullrich, Villalta, Volta, Catassi, Fasano.

It is critical that you are examined by a gastroenterologist before switching to a Gluten-Free diet.
Why? Once you eliminate gluten, it is virtually impossible to diagnose celiac, and the diagnosis of celiac, an extremely serious auto-immune disorder, should be your primary concern.

My Favorite Gluten-Free Guides

“Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide” by Shelley Case, R.D.*

“Easy Gluten-Free” by Tricia Thompson, M.S., R.D. and Marlisa Brown, M.S., R.D.*

“Gluten-Free, Hassle Free” by Marlisa Brown, R.D., C.D.E.*

*Anyone giving gluten-free dietary advice should be a registered dietitian, and have the “R.D.” after their name.

Don’t forget, Diet Simple is filled with recipes, including some marked “Gluten-Free!”

Hear me – and three other experts – discuss
“The Gluten-Free Craze” on National Public Radio’s The Diane Rehm Show.

Katherine photo for blog

See me explain how a gluten-free diet may do more harm than good on ABC-7

Call Katherine: 202-833-0353 or Email Her
For more fabulous tips and simple, effective ways to lose weight,
buy her book, Diet Simple!

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5 comments


  • Thank you! There is so much misinformation out there about gluten-free diets. I hope I’ve helped sort things out for you. Please let me know if you have questions

    February 18, 2012
  • Steph

    I just forwarded your Gluten Free to my sister-in-law. In California, they ALL are, “allergic to wheat”

    February 17, 2012
  • Betsy

    Interesting – I’ve just gone on Gluten-Free for 6 weeks. Whole Foods has been my supplier but must say not much tastes all that good. Have 3 family members to share this with.

    February 17, 2012
  • Nancy

    This is a really nice piece. Good work!

    February 17, 2012
  • Karen

    I heard you on Diane Rehm yesterday. I loved the way you made your point about people feeling better in Europe because they were getting 20,000 or more steps in. There’s nothing like data to make a point.

    February 17, 2012

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