By Marie Spano, MS, RD/LD, CSCS, CSSD

If Elizabeth Hasselbeck and a number of other celebrities have kicked gluten to the curb, you may be wondering if you should too. After all, there’s a lot of buzz about gluten, sensitivity and gluten intolerance. Plus, there are more and more tasty gluten free foods on the market.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. And, it is the new “bad guy” on the street – people are pointing fingers at this poor little protein naturally found in wheat, rye and barley as well as foods made from these grains and assuming it is associated with everything from ADD and autism to weight gain. But, as mentioned in this article in Food Safety News, you definitely don’t want to self diagnose.

There are two reasons a person should avoid gluten: celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the digestive system leading to damage in the small intestine and impairing the body’s ability to absorb some nutrients. There are many symptoms associated with celiac disease and each person’s symptoms may be different. Gluten sensitivity isn’t actually a disease and doesn’t cause the same damage to the small intestine that is characteristic of celiac disease. However, people who are gluten sensitive may have any number of vague symptoms. So, some have resorted to their own measures and cut out gluten to see if that’s their ticket to feeling better. But, according to the article in Food Safety News, cutting out gluten without getting tested for celiac disease first may actually mask the symptoms of celiac disease plus, if you cut it out and then get tested you could have a false negative test (when you actually have celiac disease)! So then, you may walk around thinking you are gluten sensitive and cut gluten as often as possible when the real issue is celiac disease or possibly even some other digestive ailment.

Several popular diets cut certain foods or eliminate entire food groups. The people on them claim that following their stringent food regimen will help you drop weight and feel better. But, in reality some lose weight because cutting out a specific food means they’ve cut calories and they feel better because they are eating less junk food! So, don’t get sidelined by sensational headlines. If you think you have an issue with gluten, go to a doctor who specializes in celiac disease.