Celiac Disease vs Wheat Allergy

30 Apr

I often get asked about the difference between Celiac disease, and a wheat allergy. I think more and more people (at least that I know!) are getting diagnosed with wheat allergies, which makes sense because wheat is one of the top eight allergens. I only hope that those getting diagnosed are also being tested for Celiac disease!!

Wheat can be very pretty. And tasty. But it's poison to those with Celiac disease.

Either way, it’s helpful to have the right explanation when people ask about the difference. It’s especially important to be able to explain the difference between your Celiac disease and an “allergy” when you’re dining out. I have learned this the hard way, by being glutenized at restaurants what apparently didn’t think a few bread crumbs would be harmful to me. We need to educate!!!

This article also addresses the gluten free diet as a “weight-loss” fad (ha!) and while I think the “fad” can actually help the gluten free food industry and even food labeling, it also harms us potentially when we seek safe gluten free options at restaurants – if people think we’re seeking gluten free food for “weight loss”, they are much less likely to take cross-contamination into effect!

Gluten-free is more than just the latest health kick from the Chicago Sun-Times


What’s the deal with “gluten-free”?

Gluten is a protein that is extremely harmful to people with the autoimmune intestinal disorder celiac disease, and less harmful but still avoided by people with a gluten intolerance.

Celiac disease is very different from a food allergy. A food allergy leads to the body producing a specific reaction (itching or nasal, gastrointestinal or respiratory symptoms) after eating a certain food. For those with celiac disease, when gluten is ingested, the body experiences an autoimmune reaction that damages the tiny, hair-like projections in the small intestine. The damage inhibits proper nutrient absorption from foods.

Celiac disease is arguably one of the most common autoimmune disorders. According to the National Institute of Health, it affects 1 in 133 people; this amounts to approximately 3 million Americans.

Its prevalence is significantly underestimated. In fact, more Americans have celiac disease than type 1 diabetes, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis combined.

When repeatedly exposed to gluten, those with celiac face an increased risk of both nutritional and immune-related disorders such as anemia, osteoporosis, GI cancers and nervous system disorders.

The only treatment for celiac disease is through adhering to a strict gluten-free diet. That means avoiding all products that contain gluten, which is in wheat (including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn and faro), barley and rye.

Gluten can be found in cold cuts, soups, marinades, dressings, soy sauce, candies and chocolates.

Other possible hidden sources of gluten include: caramel color, artificial and natural flavor and color, smoke flavor, stock/gravy cubes, mixed spices or seasonings and dry-roasted nuts.

So how do those following a gluten-free diet find safe products to eat? They read labels for gluten-containing ingredients or look for gluten-free certification on food packages.

Still, the gluten-free diet can be hard to navigate and sometimes the list of “avoids” seems endless. I have had a lot of experiencing reading labels and agree they can be tricky to navigate, especially for those on a gluten-free diet.

My best advice: Read the labels and, if you’re still not sure, contact the manufacturer for further clarification. It’s not worth the risk!

If you have a food allergy or intolerance, or are cooking for someone who does, it is important that you respect their requests, as the consequences can be life-threatening.

For some, gluten-free may be the new trendy health kick, but celiacs will not be ditching this diet any time soon.

Phil Lempert is the editor of SupermarketGuru.com and reports on the latest trends on NBC’s “Today” show, ABC’s “The View” and local Chicago news programs. E-mail Phil@SupermarketGuru.com.


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