Get the facts if you're one of the millions of people who have to say "goodbye" to gluten and "hello" to a whole new way of eating.
Credit: Randy Mayor / Cooking Light; Graphic: Jim Sheetz

Saying goodbye to bagels, pizza, pasta and tortillas, not to mention cakes, pies, and cookies may sound like torture, but for the millions of people with gluten intolerance, the relief that comes with the elimination of these foods is nothing short of a miracle.

About Celiac Disease
Gluten intolerance (also known as celiac disease) is a genetic autoimmune disorder that affects the body's ability to digest gluten–a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. It's an intestinal disorder rather than a food allergy because eating a gluten-containing food actually causes damage to the lining of the small intestine. This damage increases the risk of malnutrition because the damaged intestine has trouble absorbing nutrients.

Diagnosing Gluten Intolerance
The symptoms vary, but usually include weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, chronic diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and bloating. Some people also experience muscle cramps, joint pain, or a painful rash. This condition often goes undiagnosed or is misdiagnosed, probably because these are symptoms that are noted in many disorders. The only treatment is a life-long adherence to a gluten-free diet.

Benefits of Living Gluten-Free
In addition to treating celiac disease there is new evidence that a gluten-free, casein-free diet may improve behavior in children with certain form of autism and may be helpful in treating a skin disorder called dermatitis herpetiformis, multiple sclerosis, and other autoimmune disorders. Some researchers also advocate screening children with Type 1 diabetes for gluten intolerance.

Saying Hello to a New Way of Eating
Steering clear of wheat products is probably the biggest challenge for people following a gluten-free diet, but gluten is present in other grains as well as in a number of other food additives, all of which must be avoided. Safe foods include gluten-free grains and starches such as amaranth, arrowroot, corn, quinoa, rice, millet, sorghum, potato, soy and tapioca, as well as most fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, fish and shellfish.

Gluten-Free Diet Resources
Many medical research centers and non-profit organizations maintain webpages for those with celiac disease. The following sites offer helpful guidelines and reliable medical information.