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The gluten-free diet buzz - is it for you?

Published:Wednesday | August 27, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Marsha N. Woolery, Healthy Eating & Diet

Over the past couple years, there has been an increase in the number of gluten-free products available to consumers - gluten-free breads, crackers, cereals, and even juices.

A gluten-free diet is now being touted as a better alternative to cure, prevent and manage a variety of illnesses and diseases, and the latest is its role in weight management. For weight loss, this is another of the many fad diets ... a quick fix for supposed good health.

According to Rubio-Tapia (2009), the numbers of persons with gluten insensitivity have increased in United States of America over the past 50 years to about one per cent of the Caucasian population, but the number of persons with gluten insensitivity in Jamaica is not well documented.

Some problems that would suggest gluten-insensitivity include:

On-going, unexplained diarrhea after consumption of gluten-containing foods or products.

Vomiting, bloating and flatulence (passing of gas).

An increase or decrease in bowel movement.

Diarrhea at nights.

Strong-smelling faeces that are pale and foamy.

Unexplained weakness and fatigue after consuming wheat and wheat-containing foods and products.

Unexplained iron-deficiency - anaemia.

Skin lesions around the elbows, knees, legs, buttocks, neck, or scalp.

Gluten is one of the proteins found in grains such as wheat, rye, barley, and oats and their by-products. Gluten is the soft, pliable remains when flour is kneaded and washed with water.

Gluten is found in the following foods and should be avoided if you are gluten sensitive:

Wheat, rye, barley, and oats and their products (bread, crackers, rolls, pastries).


Breading or coating mixes

Broth or noodle soup

Semola or seminola

Pasta (macaroni, spaghetti) made with wheat flour

Imitation or vegetarian meats, shrimp or fish substitutes

Malt or malt flavourings

Processed meats (sausage, hot dogs, bologna)

Roux (cooked, thickened mixture of flour and water used to make some sauces and gravies)

Commercial instant potato and rice mixes

Soy sauce


White and non-malt vinegars

Commercially prepared soups

Medications that have wheat as a binder or filler

Drinks that have wheat flour starch as a thickening agent

Elimination of the abovementioned foods without careful meal planning can result in nutrient deficiencies. The person on a gluten-free diet should make sure that he or she is getting sufficient amounts of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals during mealtimes to prevent deficiencies and replace nutrient stores.

Recommendations for a gluten-free diet are:

Consume local foods and products from breadfruit, yam, dasheen, banana, plantains (ripe and green), corn, potatoes (irish and sweet), coco, cassava for energy, fibre, and vitamins.

Consume fresh, local fruits and vegetables to get vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Eat more locally grown peas, beans and nuts for protein, iron and vitamins and minerals.

Foods eaten should not contain gluten-containing flour introduced during milling or preparation.

Read all food labels and ask pharmacists what fillers and binders are in medications.

Be familiar with the current recommendations for a product to be considered as 'gluten-free' and food additives.

Experiment with recommended foods to make tasty dishes to prevent boredom and frustration.

The gluten-free diet and weight loss

It is a well-known fact that eating too much starchy foods such as wheat and its products may cause an increase in body weight. Portion control is what is recommended, not avoidance of wheat for weight loss and weight management. Wheat flour (white or whole wheat) is inexpensive, and especially for Jamaicans, the consumption of bread (especially the hot hard dough), crackers, dumplings, and fritters adds variety to our meals. The gluten is not what is causing the weight gain, but instead the carbohydrates that are eaten in excess.

A gluten-free diet is not recommended unless you have a medical condition that has been confirmed by a trained and registered medical doctor after conducting various tests. A trained, registered dietitian should also be consulted to assist with meal planning and preparation to prevent nutrient deficiencies. This medical condition should improve after about two weeks of adhering to the prescribed diet.

Be aware of what you eat and drink ... read labels ... . Don't get caught up in the latest diet trends. Poor eating habits could be harmful to your health and wellness.

Marsha N. Woolery, RD, is a registered dietitian/nutritionist at Fairview Medical and Dental Center, Montego Bay, and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: