Did you hear on the news that General Mills recalled 1.8 million boxes of Cheerios, including regular Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios? Why? Because some of their advertised “gluten-free” boxes of cereal were made with wheat by mistake, thereby putting those with wheat allergies and celiac disease at risk. If you don’t have celiac disease, and aren’t allergic to wheat – should you be paying attention? We’ve got the answers!


Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Think about your grocery aisles and your shopping list. It no doubt contains many items with these ingredients – and thus, the gluten protein. Gluten is also found in medicines, lip balms and vitamins.


About one percent of people suffer from this disease. If they eat or use products with gluten, an autoimmune response is triggered that damages the intestines and keeps nutrients from being absorbed properly. People with untreated celiac disease can suffer from dramatic weight loss, vitamin deficiencies, chronic pain, diarrhea, fatigue and, if they’re women, repeated miscarriages. A simple blood test can determine whether or not someone has celiac disease. A doctor may decide to follow up with additional testing for confirmation.

Another group of people are said to be gluten intolerant. Common symptoms of gluten intolerance include diarrhea, cramping, bloating, gas, constipation and anemia.  Those same symptoms can also be a result of a host of other conditions.

The jury is still out on those who self-diagnose gluten intolerance. One study showed that those who ate a gluten-free diet felt better, but so did those who continued to eat products with gluten in it. Another study showed that people eating gluten felt worse than those who had a rice substitute in their diet.

So the question remains – if you believe you feel better when not eating gluten, should you go gluten free – even if there is no proof that it really works? For many people, the answer is yes.

About 10% of the U.S. population is avoiding gluten. This means bypassing many breads, bakery items, crackers, cereals and even soy sauce.

Here are a few tips to going gluten free:
  • Fruits and veggies – No gluten there! These are also necessary for a balanced and healthy diet.
  • Quinoa (keen-wa) is good. It is not only gluten-free and nutritious, it also has high levels of protein and amino acids. It is eaten and prepared similarly to rice or couscous.
  • Label reading. You may be surprised at some of the foods that contain gluten. Also, be aware that gluten-free is not 100% free of gluten. The Food and Drug Administration considers less than 20 parts per million as “free” of gluten.
  • Gluten-free is not necessarily healthy. The non-gluten section in your grocery store can be full of fattening and sweetened food such as cookies, snacks and other goodies. There is even talk of a gluten-free Twinkie.
  • Bake with non-wheat flour. If you like to bake, you can substitute rice flour, quinoa flour, oat flour, corn meal, and bean or potato flour. You can also buy pasta made with quinoa.
  • Plain is better. You can still get your protein with lean meats, fish, nuts and beans. Stay away from food that is breaded. When dining out, order the “plain” food if you’re trying to go gluten-free. Many restaurants have gluten-free items – so ask your server.
  • No gluten in distilled spirits! Those with celiac disease can drink wine and hard liquor but should avoid wine coolers, beer, and mixed drinks which may contain gluten. You can look for gluten-free beers in some markets.
Technology may be coming to the rescue for those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. A portable sensor (about $150) can be inserted into foods to test for risky ingredients and users will be able to share their results via an app.

This could be a game-changer if it works for gluten-free people as well as for those suffering from food allergies. Until then, stick with your fruit, veggies and home-cooked meals – always good advice!


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