gluten free pic
Seeing each other at the Fort Stewart Commissary, Renee Reese (left) and Elvia Kelly, public affairs specialists, take a moment to talk about gluten-free products in the store and their associated health benefits.

FORT STEWART, Ga. - Another medical trend coming to the forefront in recent months is that of reading labels containing gluten.

In an interview with Capt. Jill Fowler-Hakes, Nutrition Care Division chief at Winn Army Community Hospital, an explanation was given on this developing concern.

"Gluten is a protein that is in wheat products, such as bread, wheat, barley, oats, and rye," said Capt. Fowler-Hakes.

"Gluten is significant to those with the auto-immune disease, Celiac, because the only effective treatment is to follow a gluten-free diet."

An auto-immune disease occurs when the body mistakenly attacks its own healthy cells and tissue. The immune system produces antibodies to attack viruses, bacteria, and toxins. In an auto-immune disease, the immune system mistakes some parts of the body as an infection, or gem, and attacks it.

Captain Fowler-Hakes said that the intestines have a lining of tiny finger-like cells called villi, which are responsible for the absorption of nutrients. "In Celiac Disease, the protein gluten triggers an immune response which damages the villi of the small intestine and prevents nutrient absorption. Symptoms of Celiac Disease include abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies, constipation, or fatigue. Symptoms vary from person to person and depend on the amount of nutrient deficiencies."

Like most medical conditions, persons may want to know what their level of concern should be in cure and prevention. "For the average person, gluten is not harmful," said Capt. Fowler Hakes. "In fact, many foods containing gluten such as whole grains are nutritious. For someone who has Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance, it comes down to following a gluten free diet for life and preventing cross contamination of gluten free foods from containing foods with gluten free foods by practicing diligent food safety."

"According to research, Celiac Disease affects 1 out of 133 people. Studies are also suggesting that while many people may not have celiac disease, they may be gluten intolerant or have sensitivity to gluten," she said.

But unlike like eating too much candy or eating foods too high in fats, it becomes problematic when a person with Celiac Disease has any gluten. "Even a miniscule amount can damage the villi," said Capt. Fowler-Hakes. "It is even best to use a different knife when making a sandwich and separate toasters for gluten free and gluten containing breads."

Captain Fowler-Hakes said that many of the foods we eat on a daily basis are packed with gluten. "Eliminating gluten can be a challenging because many foods, medicines, supplements and even postage stamps or envelopes may contain gluten. Fortunately, food companies are making more and more gluten free products and taste of the products has also improved over the years."

"As a dietitian, my concern is that someone will think that they have Celiac Disease and follow the diet without getting tested," continued Capt. Fowler-Hakes. "It is important to get an accurate diagnosis before starting the diet because it is a lifestyle change and you want to be sure that celiac disease is the cause. The gold standard for diagnosis is an intestinal biopsy, but lab work will also be done."

If someone thinks they have Celiac Disease, they definitely want to get properly tested," added Capt. Fowler-Hakes.

Celiac Disease is not life threatening, but long term nutrient deficiencies can cause damage to other parts of the body if treatment is not followed. It is best to have a consultation with a doctor and then see a dietitian if the diagnosis of Celiac Disease is confirmed.

Even though Celiac Disease only affects 1 to 2 percent of the population, it can affect anyone at any age.

Products containing gluten can include some types of alcohol, flour, and spaghetti noodles.

The Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Commissaries are loaded with many gluten-free products for consumption, from those noted by national food companies to the naturally gluten-free items, some noted as follows: apples, bananas, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupes, carrots, celery, cucumber, garlic, grapes, honeydew melons, lemons, lettuce, okra, onions, oranges, peppers, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, sweet potatoes and watermelons.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16