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Deciding to go gluten-free
01:10 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

There was a time when gluten, a mixture of proteins found in wheat, rye and barley, was something of a foreign term. Not many people had heard of it, and the few who needed to avoid it found meals to be extremely challenging.

Today, I hear the word “gluten” on a daily basis, but mostly as a food component to be avoided at all costs. In fact, according to late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, it seems that “in Los Angeles, gluten is comparable to Satanism.” But is banning gluten from your diet really a wise health decision?

“That’s the $64,000 question that everyone is asking,” said Shelley Case, a registered dietitian, expert on the gluten-free diet and author of “Gluten Free: The Definitive Resource Guide.” “The answer is, not everyone benefits from going gluten-free, despite the fact that celebrities and athletes say it will cure anything that ails you.”

Who needs to go gluten-free

A gluten-free diet is designed specifically for those with celiac disease and a condition known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, Case explained.

When gluten is consumed in people with celiac disease, it triggers an immune response that damages the lining of the small intestine, which affects the ability of the intestine to absorb nutrients, including carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. When nutrients are not properly absorbed, deficiencies can result, causing anemia, osteoporosis, weight loss and other complications.

Following a gluten-free diet allows the intestine to heal; nutrients are absorbed, and symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, fatigue and diarrhea or constipation resolve over time.