Walk down any aisle at a health food store like Whole Foods and you’ll see “gluten free” written in big letters on a wide range of products from spaghetti to cookies. The gluten free diet seems to have exploded, but only a relatively small percentage of the U.S. population (about 1 percent) actually has a gluten intolerance, or celiac (SEE-lee-ak) disease. If you have it, you’ll experience abdominal pain and diarrhea after eating anything with wheat barley or rye such as bread, pasta, cookies, pizza crust. It can, if left untreated, decrease absorption of nutrients and result in serious vitamin deficiencies that could be lethal. Then there is what one expert has deemed “celiac lite”, or a gluten sensitivity, which isn’t as severe and does affect more people (5 to 10 percent), and also includes some of the symptoms of bloating, gas and abdominal pain. There isn’t a medically approved test to determine sensitivity to gluten, but a patient can be tested for celiac disease. If you think you may be sensitive, the best test is to simply eliminate it from your diet and see if your condition improves. With so few people diagnosed with the disease, why are we seeing such a huge marketing push and increase in interest in a gluten free life? Is this just the next diet fad or are more of us becoming gluten intolerant and insensitive and if so, why?
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