Gluten-free is all the rage these days – from celebrities to politicians, it seems everyone is eating 'free.' Even the FDA weighed in last August, issuing a final ruling to define “gluten-free” on food labels.

While some opt to omit gluten from their diet to improve overall digestive health or to lose weight, others must adhere to a gluten-free diet out of medical necessity.

A new lifestyle

Gluten, the protein component of grains like wheat, barley and rye, must be eliminated entirely and permanently for the estimated 1 percent of individuals with celiac disease (CD). This genetic autoimmune disorder causes the body to attack its own small intestine lining when gluten is consumed.

For those with CD, gluten elicits any number of 300+ symptoms, including gastrointestinal upset, infertility, anemia, osteoporosis, fatigue, migraines, joint pain, depression and skin irritation.

The wide array symptoms that can affect nearly every body tissue makes CD challenging to diagnose and often leads to misdiagnosis of diseases like Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and even clinical depression.

Accurate diagnosis is crucial for restoring health in those with CD. Currently, testing begins with a blood test to check for gluten antibodies. A positive test is typically followed by a small intestine tissue biopsy to assess damage of the gut lining, the hallmark sign of CD.

Presently, the only treatment for CD is a 100 percent gluten-free diet.

"A gluten-free diet can restore energy, enhance vitality and boost immunity, all important factors in achieving optimal health."

Other medical conditions, like non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), which is believed to affect 6% of Americans, as well as a skin condition called dermatitis herpetiformis, also make a strict gluten-free diet medically necessary.

Bolstering nutrition

While eating gluten-free is sometimes viewed as restrictive, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. For individuals with gluten-related health issues, gluten-free living is liberating, alleviating a multitude of health issues that likely took years to diagnose.

A gluten-free diet can restore energy, enhance vitality and boost immunity, all important factors in achieving optimal health. Regardless of one’s reason for going gluten-free, for medical reasons or other, the delicious options for those following a gluten-free diet are endless.

For small intestine healing and overall health, a focus on naturally gluten-free foods is best. For example, a diet of lean proteins (either animal or plant based), complex carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables) and healthy fats (cold water fish, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, nuts and seeds) provides well-rounded nutrition without worry of gluten (as long as those foods have no gluten added, for example, in seasonings or sauces).

Healthy indulgences

For the occasional indulgence of baked goods or a sweet treat, there are delicious options for those too. Many food manufacturers offer gluten-free cookies, cakes, brownies and more. Locating gluten-free products is simple using online resources like the Gluten Free Resource Directory. And if you fancy a homemade treat, you can find countless recipes and resources online for baking your own gluten-free goodies.

Of course, if you believe you have CD or another gluten-related medical condition, a visit to your doctor is in order. If you are considering going gluten-free, you may want to give a gluten challenge a try. Start by removing all sources of gluten from your diet for one month, then add gluten back to the diet. If your symptoms improve during the gluten elimination and return after adding gluten back, most doctors agree a diagnosis of gluten sensitivity can be made.

Regardless of the reason, embrace the renewed health your gluten-free lifestyle will bring and the wide array of delicious foods available to enjoy.