Celiac Disease (gluten intolerance) is a serious autoimmune condition of genetic origin and estimated to affect 1 in 133 Americans. Even minute amounts of gluten in the diet cause an autoimmune reaction which degrades the lining of the small intestine and it's ability to absorb nutrition.
"Gluten Free" is also a fad diet highly promoted by some
people and product developers because it is high profit. It is promoted
as a weight loss diet and to treat Attention Deficit Disorder, but studies
have shown it is ineffective for both those applications.
This is not a medical site. Nothing here should be considered medical advice in diagnosis or treatment of any disorder or disease - qualified practitioners should be consulted. This overview from publicly available documents may help persons who do not have a gluten problem in understanding associates who do.
Celiac Disease - This serious autoimmune condition is estimated to affect about 1 in 133 Americans (it has been much under diagnosed in the US) and seems to be more prevalent now than it was 60 years ago, for unknown reasons. This condition results in digestive problems, often painful, and in gradual degradation of the small intestine, resulting in malnutrition and possibly cancer. It is an inherited condition, so tends to run in families.
There is no cure and the only effective treatment is to completely avoid even the most tiny amounts of gluten protein in the diet. This is a particular problem for Catholics because communion wafers contain gluten.
Celiac disease, when suspected, must be tested for before taking up a gluten free diet. Properly certified medical practitioners should be consulted, and reputable dieticians trained in this disorder should tests prove positive.
Gluten Sensitivity - This non-celiac reaction was formerly disregarded but is now considered real by medical practitioners. Some say it is more prevalent than Celiac Disease, but this is still under study. It may, in fact, not be due to gluten but to carbohydrates called FODMAPs, which are common in foods high in gluten. It is nowhere near as dangerous to health as celiac disease, but can be similarly painful.
Gluten Free Diet - While absolutely essential for celiac sufferers, and definitely indicated for gluten sensitivity, "Gluten Free" is being heavily promoted by various people and businesses for their own financial benefit. It is promoted as a weight loss diet and a treatment for Attention Deficit Disorder. Actual tests have shown this diet ineffective for both these problems, and it has nutritional risks.
Celiac Disease will result in nutritional deficiencies due to degradation of the small intestine. On the other hand, a Gluten Free diet can result in nutritional deficiencies because gluten free foods may be deficient. For this reason, medical practitioners recommend against a gluten free diet for those for whom it is not medically necessary, and recommend special care and supplementation for whom it is. These deficiencies include:
Maintaining a gluten free diet is not easy, because many processed foods include some gluten or are cross contaminated. Even those labeled "wheat free" can contain gluten. Great care in selecting foods is a requirement.
All gluten bearing items are grains, the seeds of grasses - but not all grass seeds contain gluten.
Grains containing gluten and thus to be avoided.: