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Should You Go Gluten-Free?

Gluten-free options are popping up everywhere, in supermarket aisles as well as on restaurant menus. However, unless you truly have sensitivity to gluten, those options aren’t advisable, says Michelle Pasia, MPH, RDN, Clinical Coordinator at the Kogan Celiac Center at RWJBarnabas Health.

Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye and barley that binds, or “glues,” them together. “Whole-grain foods provide us with fiber and vitamins, so there’s no reason to avoid them unless you need to for health reasons,” Pasia says.

Conditions that warrant excluding gluten from your diet fall into two general categories, with symptoms that can range from uncomfortable to downright disabling.

Gluten/wheat sensitivity: Symptoms may include bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, “foggy mind,” bone or joint pain, and chronic fatigue. “If you have these symptoms and they can’t be explained in any other way, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor to see if you have a gluten sensitivity,” Pasia says.

Celiac disease: A lifelong, genetic autoimmune disorder, this condition means that the body has a reaction with the ingestion of gluten. It can be marked by many of the same symptoms as gluten sensitivity and can also include skin rash, discolored teeth, failure to thrive, numbness in legs, anemia, osteoporosis and infertility. “If you have any of these unexplained symptoms, you should be tested for celiac disease,” Pasia says. Because the disease has a genetic component, it’s especially important to get checked if you have a family history of the disease.

“If you’re going to be tested, don’t go gluten-free in advance,” Pasia cautions. “If you’re not eating gluten, the celiac markers won’t show up in the testing.” Initial testing involves a simple blood test. If celiac disease is suspected, an endoscopy will be performed by a gastroenterologist.

The Kogan Celiac Center, which provides education, resources and monthly support groups, is located at 200 South Orange Ave. in Livingston. For more information, call 973.322.7272.