"Do I REALLY need to eat gluten free?"
As a chef and nutritionist, I am often asked this question by people who are seeking to improve their overall health.
The answer is no. If you are not an individual who has celiac disease or has been diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (a medical condition that benefits from eating gluten free), then no, you do not need to eat gluten free.
However, for many of us, our lives and health depend on it.
May is Celiac Awareness Month. Celiac disease is condition for which the only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet. One in 133 people are estimated to have celiac disease.
I am also often asked why I eat gluten free. The answer?
I am one of those one in 133 that are diagnosed and have celiac disease.
My health depends on me not ingesting gluten.
This isn't a fad, a game or something we do to be difficult -- it is a medical condition.
For celiacs, we cannot have "just a little bit" of gluten or we become very ill. For those who don't understand celiac disease, I compare it to a peanut allergy. Would an individual who has a peanut allergy just be able to eat "a little bit of peanut" or just a "slight dusting of peanut?" No, they cannot. This holds true for those who have celiac disease, or often those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Please take us seriously. For those of us with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, this isn't a fad, a game or something we do to be difficult -- it is a medical condition.
What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease was first described in 1888 by Dr. Samuel Gee as a disease of malabsorption. In the 1950s, Dr. Dicke discovered that a wheat-free diet resulted in a full remission of symptoms. And in 1950 a surgical device was developed to biopsy tissue samples from the small intestinal lining, which led to redefining celiac disease during the 1960s.
Today more than 1.8 million North Americans suffer from celiac disease, and many more may have it but are not yet aware. When actively sought, celiac disease is found in approximately one per cent of apparently healthy, symptom-free American adults, making it more than twice as common as inflammatory bowel disease.
Cases of celiac disease found in children are equally spread among males and females. In adults, however, twice as many women are diagnosed in comparison to men.
Much of what we eat is absorbed through the surface of the small intestines via the villi. Villi are small, finger like projections in the small intestine that increase the surface area of the small intestine. Villi line the small intestines and help increase the absorption area for nutrients
With celiac disease, the small intestines become so damaged by gluten that villi become flat, and cannot do their job of absorbing nutrients. As a result, individuals with celiac disease can experience many nutrient deficiencies.
Symptoms of celiac disease may include muscle soreness, joint pain, congestion, stomach cramps, bloating, fatigue, gas, diarrhea or constipation, weight loss or weight gain, skin rashes, depression, irritability, confusion, anxiety and other mood changes
Celiac disease can also manifest as an autoimmune response in the skin. Dermatitis Herpetiformis is a gluten-sensitive skin disease. this subgroup of celiac disease can manifest as itchy skin lesions found on the back of the knees, buttocks, elbows and/or the face.
What is gluten intolerance?
Gluten intolerance (also commonly referred to as gluten sensitivity) occurs when a person cannot tolerate gluten. Any individual who has celiac disease is in essence gluten "intolerant/sensitive." Usually, the term "gluten intolerant" describes individuals who get symptoms when they eat gluten, and feel better on a gluten-free diet, but do not have celiac disease per se.
Common symptoms of gluten intolerance/sensitivity include abdominal pain, fatigue, headaches and paresthesia, which refers to tingling of the extremities (Canadian Celiac Association, 2011).
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found within the seeds or grains of wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut and triticale -- the proteins are loosely called "gluten," but gluten is made up of several sub-fractions of proteins. Gluten acts as a rubbery binder when liquid is added, and gives bread and wheat products their doughy texture. It is also found in so many things, especially processed foods.
When I was diagnosed with celiac disease at the age of 12 and adopted a gluten-free diet, the difference in my health was was like night and day. And so since then, I have made it my life's mission to teach people how to take control of their health through their diets.
I believe that everyone should eat as close to nature as possible. Does everyone need to eat gluten free? No, but I believe we would ALL benefit our health if we just ate real food. Gluten free or not!
We are so blessed that we live in an era where there are so MANY delicious gluten-free options available. I stick to eating fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and free range meats as in their natural state; incidentally, they are all gluten free.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
MORE ON HUFFPOST:
Get the Strawberry Chia And Quinoa Breakfast recipe from Maria Ushakova
Get the Easy Gluten-Free Oat Waffles recipe from Cookie And Kate
Get the Gluten-Free Breakfast Tostadas recipe from Minimalist Baker
Get the Hot Rice Cereal With Nuts And Raisins recipe from Martha Stewart
Get the Gluten-Free Orange Cranberry Scones recipe from The Healthy Maven
Get the Crustless Broccoli-Cheddar Quiches recipe from Martha Stewart
Get the Cardamom Quinoa Porridge recipe from Martha Stewart
Get the Simple Grain Free Granola recipe from Minimalist Baker
Get the Thin Gluten-Free Crepes recipe from Give Recipe
Get the Gluten-Free Banana Muffin recipe from Gluten-Free Goddess
Get the Roasted Asparagus, Green Onion And Blue Cheese Frittata recipe from Naturally Ella
Get the Gluten-Free Buttermilk Pancakes recipe from A Girl Defloured
Get the Gluten-Free Baked Maple Glazed Doughnuts recipe from A Girl Defloured
Get the Peanut Butter Banana Muffins recipe from Eat Real Healthy Foods
Get the Salvadoran Breakfast Cake recipe by Sasha (Global Table Adventure) from Food52
Get the Coconut Milk Rice Pudding With Citrus And Ginger recipe by Gena Hamshaw from Food52
Get Andrew Feinberg's Slow-Baked Broccoli Frittata recipe by Genius Recipes from Food52
Get the Yogurt With Toasted Quinoa, Dates And Almonds recipe from Food52
Get the Gluten Free Zucchini Bread recipe from A Girl Defloured
Follow Kathy Smart on Twitter: www.twitter.com/smart_kitchen