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Decent Article In New York Newsday

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This was in today's (Feb. 5) New York Newsday. Pretty decent information.

"Nutrition: The challenge of giving up gluten

BY JANET HELM | Chicago Tribune

February 5, 2008

Just when bread was starting to make a comeback after the low-carb craze, it has been hit with the gluten-free frenzy.

Hoards of people are giving up gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Yet the growing numbers of gluten avoiders are not only people with celiac disease - which was once dismissed as a rare condition but now is estimated to affect 1 out of every 100 Americans.

Gluten has become the dietary villain du jour, the new "carb," if you will.

Gluten is being blamed for everything from migraines and chronic fatigue to depression and infertility. It's being accused of making us fat and aggravating arthritis, acne and attention-deficit disorder.

Going gluten-free has even become trendy on college campuses.

Among the strongest advocates of gluten-free are families affected by autism. A gluten-free diet is recommended by autism support groups.

And parents, including celebrity mom and author Jenny McCarthy, have been quite vocal about the benefits. Most definitely, people with celiac disease need to avoid gluten. Otherwise, this autoimmune disorder can damage the small intestine and interfere with the absorption of nutrients. For celiac sufferers, a gluten-free diet is far from a fad - it is the only treatment.

What appears less clear is whether gluten can be blamed for other problems such as autism. Carol Fenster has been gluten-free for 20 years even though she does not have celiac disease. She's part of a growing group who say they simply feel better avoiding gluten.

"I was told if you don't have celiac, then you don't have a problem," said Fenster, who defended her choice to avoid gluten when her doctors said "it's all in your head."

Positive effects

Fenster said her chronic sinus problems cleared up and she had more energy after she gave up gluten. She became so enamored with the gluten-free lifestyle that she dedicated her career to it. Fenster conducts gluten-free cooking classes in Denver and has written seven gluten-free cookbooks, including her latest, "Gluten-Free Quick and Easy."

Experts say that the growing attention on gluten is a mixed blessing. On one hand, it may encourage more people to get tested for celiac - which still remains undiagnosed in about 97 percent of the people who have it in this country. A typical diagnosis often takes 10 years because the symptoms are mistaken for other conditions. But, ironically, the current fervor over gluten may be making a proper diagnosis even trickier.

Starting a gluten-free diet before being tested for celiac may cause the gut to heal temporarily and an accurate diagnosis will be missed, said Dr. Joseph A. Murray, a celiac disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

"If you're concerned about celiac, you should be tested before treating yourself," he said.

Self-diagnosis is rampant, probably due to the increased awareness of the disease. People are more likely to know someone with celiac now, and they relate to the diverse and often vague symptoms associated with the disease, Murray said.

Complicating matters is the emergence of Internet laboratories promoting mail-order blood tests for gluten intolerance. "Many of these tests are not an indication of what's going on at the intestinal level," said Dr. Carol Semrad, a celiac expert at the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.

A tough task

Semrad is concerned that people will needlessly eliminate gluten, which is an "inconvenient and often difficult diet to follow." If celiac is ruled out, Murray said there is little or no evidence to support a connection between gluten and other ailments, including autism. Even so, he said there is nothing wrong with cutting out gluten as long as your diet is nutritionally complete.

"If you feel better, I can't argue with that, even if I don't have scientific proof as to why it seems to help," he said.

Giving up gluten is challenging because this ingredient is so prevalent in our food supply, often hidden in sauces, marinates, canned soups and other processed foods.

The diet also can be nutritionally challenging, especially for people who do not cook, said dietitian Dee Sandquist, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association who has celiac and specializes in celiac nutrition counseling.

Many gluten-free baked goods are made with refined flours that are low in fiber and do not contain iron, folic acid and other nutrients that are routinely added to wheat flour.

Experts say people on a gluten-free diet often lose weight because they typically reduce total carbohydrates and calories, not because gluten is inherently "fattening." Sometimes, the overall quality of the diet improves because people start eating more fruits and vegetables and rely less on processed foods and sugary, refined grains."

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