Prairie Fare: Gluten-free eating necessary for some

"I see a lot of gluten-free foods in the grocery store. Should all of us be eating gluten-free?" the participant asked me. I was answering some questions after teaching a nutrition class.

"I see a lot of gluten-free foods in the grocery store. Should all of us be eating gluten-free?" the participant asked me. I was answering some questions after teaching a nutrition class.

"That depends. If you have celiac disease, then you need to avoid gluten for medical reasons. Not all people need to avoid gluten, though," I replied.

Our discussion continued quite a while, and this topic garnered a lot of interest from the rest of the class.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats (unless labeled gluten-free). Gluten acts somewhat like elastic and provides a framework for bread. As yeast bread rises, gluten proteins stretch and allow expansion of the dough. Gluten-free bread products usually contain eggs or some type of food gum that mimics the action of gluten.

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, one out of every 133 people has celiac disease, which also is known as gluten sensitive enteropathy. They must avoid gluten for the rest of their lives.


This autoimmune disease often is accompanied by abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or skin rashes, among other possible symptoms. Damage to the intestinal tract may result in nutritional deficiencies, which can promote osteoporosis, anemia and other conditions.

People with celiac disease may experience unintended weight loss, joint pain, numbness in the hands or feet, depression, migraine headaches, fatigue, weakness and/or other symptoms. Children with the disease might not grow as well as expected.

Celiac disease can occur at any age, from childhood to later adulthood, but you cannot diagnose yourself. Specific blood antibody tests and other medical procedures are used to diagnose the disease.

Some people who have not been diagnosed with celiac disease may experience similar, but milder, symptoms. Another category, nonceliac gluten intolerance (or sensitivity), is being debated within the medical community. Be sure to discuss your health concerns with a medical care provider.

Many gluten-free products are available, which is of great benefit to the many people who have celiac disease. However, gluten-free foods are not necessarily healthier for people who do not need to avoid gluten for a medical reason. Be sure to compare Nutrition Facts labels to learn more about the foods you are buying.

Gluten may be found in processed meats, ice cream, ketchup, soy sauce, mouthwash, toothpaste and many other items. Sometimes you need to contact the manufacturer to know if the product contains gluten.

If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, you need to be cautious about cross- contaminating gluten-containing foods with nongluten-containing foods. For example, if you have one person eating gluten-free in a household, you may need to have separate jars of mayonnaise and peanut butter for that person because the contents can become contaminated with gluten from bread crumbs. In addition, you may need to have two separate toasters. One toaster could be designated for use with gluten-free products only.

Also, remember that the "gluten-free" designation often carries a higher price tag. According to a research article published in the Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research, all of the gluten-free products researchers studied were more expensive than similar products that contained gluten. In fact, the gluten-free products, on average, were 242 percent more expensive than gluten-containing products.


Many foods are gluten-free naturally unless they are cross-contaminated by gluten-containing foods during processing at a food company or during food preparation at home or in a restaurant. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, hard cheese, dry edible beans, meat, fish and poultry without breading or certain flavorings are naturally gluten-free in their "whole food" form. Rice and potatoes contain no gluten and are available as flour that can be used to make bread.

For more information about celiac disease, visit . Colorado State University Extension has a fact sheet about gluten-free baking available at http://

Here's a recipe for a gluten-free sweet treat with just five ingredients.


Peanut Butter Cookies

2 cups creamy peanut butter

1 cup white sugar


1 cup brown sugar, packed

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla (if desired)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix ingredients. Drop by teaspoon full on an ungreased cookie sheet. Press the tops lightly with the tines of a fork to create a crisscross pattern. Bake for about eight minutes.

Makes 24 cookies. Each cookie has 210 calories, 12 grams (g) of fat, 20 g of carbohydrate, 7 g of protein and 110 milligrams of sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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