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What it Means to be Gluten Free

Sweetness in Practice Contributor - May 22, 2015
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In light of research noting that 30% of Americans say they would like to cut back on gluten, it should be no surprise that Healthcare Professionals are receiving a growing number of questions pertaining to this protein, which appears in many everyday foods that are processed from commonly eaten grains. In this month’s article for healthcare professionals, Truvía® Healthcare Ambassador and Nutritionist, Sweetness in Practice Contributor, discusses the recent gluten-free trend in the U.S. and what it means to be gluten free.

More Americans Go Gluten-Free

In recent years, an increasing number of consumers report being “gluten sensitive” or “gluten intolerant.” In fact, 2013 data from the research firm NPD Group found that a whopping 30% of Americans say they would like to cut back or avoid gluten. According to Mintel, a market research company, gluten-free products will produce more than $15 billion in annual sales by 2016, an increase of nearly $5 billion since 2013. As a healthcare professional that counsels patients who are following a gluten-free diet, it’s essential to stay on top of the latest information about gluten sensitivities and intolerances.

Gluten 101

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in all types of wheat (including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn and faro) and related species, including barley, rye and triticale. Oats do not contain gluten naturally but they’re often processed in facilities that handle wheat or other gluten-containing grains, risking cross-contamination. However, some oat brands now offer gluten-free options. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape, and gives the final product a chewy texture. Gluten can also be used as a thickener in sauces and soups.

Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the consumption of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. People with gluten sensitivity have the symptoms associated with celiac disease, but do not suffer from small intestine damage. It is difficult to estimate the prevalence of celiac disease, as many cases go undiagnosed. That said, the Celiac Disease Foundation (www.celiac.org) estimates that about 1 in every 100 people worldwide are affected by celiac disease and 2.5 million Americans are undiagnosed. Unfortunately, the number of people affected by gluten sensitivity is difficult to estimate because so many people self-diagnose and eliminate gluten without medical advice.

Symptoms Associated with Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity

It can be difficult to identify patients with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity since a wide variety of symptoms are associated with the conditions. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, there are about 300 different symptoms associated with the disease. Children commonly have digestive symptoms, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, but may also present with non-traditional symptoms such as fatigue, short stature, irritability and behavioral issues. Adults more often do not present with digestive issues; a few examples of symptoms adults are more likely to have include arthritis, depression or anxiety, bone loss or migraines. To get an accurate diagnosis for either condition, it is important for your patients to speak to a doctor about their symptoms.

The Misconceptions of a Gluten-Free Diet

While many patients may think “gluten-free” equals “good-for-me,” that’s not always the case. Conventional grains that contain gluten tend to be fortified with essential nutrients such as folate, iron and riboflavin. However, some gluten-free grains are not fortified, so people who eliminate gluten-containing grains from their diets may be inadvertently missing out on some of those nutrients. Aside from naturally gluten-free foods, some gluten-free specialty foods aren’t necessarily nutritious. For example, gluten-free cookies or cakes can have just as many or sometimes even more calories, added sugar and saturated fat than their gluten-free equivalents.

Gluten-Free Labeling

Due to a recent FDA labeling rule, as of August 2014 manufacturers who choose to put “gluten-free” on their package must meet a standard requirement: items labeled “gluten-free” must contain less than 20 ppm of gluten. Foods that are naturally gluten-free may also be labeled as such. All FDA-regulated foods, dietary supplements and imported foods subject to FDA regulations are covered by this labeling rule. Products regulated by the USDA, such as meat and poultry, as well as some alcoholic beverages do not fall under this regulation.

Living Gluten-Free

For individuals diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, the only known treatment is to avoid the culprit – gluten. Gluten can be hard to avoid since it’s found in a number of everyday foods. The diet requires eliminating all known sources of gluten, including even the smallest amounts, like those that can be found in some condiments. There are many natural, wholesome, gluten-free foods, like fruits and veggies, dairy, fresh meats, poultry and fish, and beans, rice, corn, millet and quinoa.

Truvía® Natural Sweetener, a sugar substitute born from the leaves of the stevia plant, is gluten-free and can be used to sweeten your coffee, tea, fruit or yogurt all while offering a promise of zero calories. Similarly, Truvía® Cane Sugar Blend and Truvía® Brown Sugar Blend are gluten-free, reduced-calorie sugar substitutes that offer 75% fewer calories per serving than sugar as a sweetening ingredient in your favorite baked treats. The good news is that there is an increasing selection of gluten-free options, like Truvía® sweetener products, on supermarket shelves helping gluten-free consumers increase variety and satisfaction with their diet.

To learn more about how Truvía® sweetener can play a useful role in a healthy balanced diet, click here. »


  1. 3Celiac Disease Foundation. 13 May 2015. www.celiac.org.

  2. 4Catassi C, Bai J, Bonaz B, et al. “Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: The New Frontier of Gluten Related Disorders.” Nutrients. 2013 Oct; 5(10): 3839-3853. Published online 2013 Sep. 26. doi: 10.3390/nu5103839. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820047/.

  3. 5Rubio-Tapia A, Ludvigsson JF, Brantner TL, et al. “The prevalence of Celiac Disease in the United States.” The American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2012. Oct;(107):1538-1544.

  4. 6Strom, Stephanie. “A big bet on gluten free.” New York Times. 17 Feb. 2014. Web 27 Feb. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/18/business/food-industry-wagers-big-on-gluten-free.html.