January 13th officially marks National Gluten-Free Day. National Gluten-Free Day acknowledges those who are facing health concerns due to gluten and provides helpful dietary tips moving forward. Gluten-free diets are not suitable for everyone and should be started only with the advice of a medical provider or gastroenterologist.
If you’re unfamiliar with gluten or what it means to be gluten-free, let’s break it down:
Gluten is an enriched protein added to select grains to improve their baking qualities and increase their ability to rise. According to Rosie McFather, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC, of TPMG Gastroenterology – Newport News, a gluten-free diet means avoiding foods that contain wheat, rye, and barley, typically found in bread. Gluten can also sneak up in beer, sauces, dressings, and foods manufactured on shared equipment used to process gluten-containing products.
While some individuals freely indulge in gluten, others are constantly facing this battle. There are numerous medical conditions associated with the consumption of gluten, but celiac disease is one of the most prominent.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that is triggered by gluten. Approximately one percent of the population is affected worldwide. Celiac disease is diagnosed through endoscopic evaluation with biopsy confirmation, and requires periodic follow-ups to monitor the progression of the disease. A genetic screening of family members aids in preventing the disease and limiting gluten exposure to those positive for the genetic markers.
Symptoms of celiac disease include unexplained iron deficiency anemia, fatigue, reproductive issues (especially in women), neurological symptoms, and dermatitis herpetiformis (skin rash that itches). A gluten-free diet can help alleviate these symptoms.
Observing National Gluten-Free Day
McFather believes that National Gluten-Free Day should be observed by:
- Evaluating why the gluten-free diet has taken off as a fad diet, a diet that is deemed popular and dangerous but doesn’t yield long-term results
- Encouraging those with undiagnosed gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms to seek medical attention from a gastroenterologist
- Gathering research on high fiber, low FODMAPs (carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed), and low-fat diets from credible sources
- Promoting celiac disease screenings to confirm diagnosis and prevention in asymptotic patients with a genetic predisposition
Without a proper diagnosis, people who start gluten-free diets are at risk. These risks include increased costs of gluten-free foods, delays in the diagnosis of the true underlying disorder, absence of family screenings for celiac genetic markers, and lack of necessary medical follow-up.
“Remember to treat the foods that you eat as a lifestyle change rather than a diet. Start reading nutrition labels and focus more on a high-fiber (gut healthy), low FODMAP (IBS friendly), and a low-fat (heart-healthy) nutritional lifestyle. Drink plenty of water, get plenty of sleep, and try to engage in at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day,” said McFather.
If you’re experiencing gastrointestinal stress and believe that gluten may be the source of your discomfort, please contact one of our primary care providers or gastroenterologists at mytpmg.com.
TPMG Gastroenterology – Newport News
TPMG Gastroenterology – Newport News consists of Jonathan D. Eisner, MD, FACG, Bader El-Safadi, MD, and Rosemarie “Rosie” McFather, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC. As a team, these three providers work together to provide comprehensive care to patients with a wide variety of gastrointestinal ailments such as diseases of the esophagus, pancreas, and gallbladder.