Gluten Intolerance: Against the Grain

Do wheat products cause intestinal trouble? Try these tips for a gluten-free diet.

By Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

You suspect pasta, bread, and crackers are making you sick. You may not have a name for your condition, but one thing's for sure: avoiding grains is challenging.

Many people blame wheat, found in most of the grain-based products, for causing their abdominal pain, gas, bloating and diarrhea.

"But more likely, gluten is what's irritating your gut," says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, author of the American Dietetic Association Guide to Better Digestion.

Gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, is the common denominator in most of the grain-based products we eat, such as cereals, breads, and pasta.

Simple gluten intolerance can be uncomfortable, but the symptoms are fleeting, Bonci says. The good news is that gluten intolerance is not a food allergy, and eating gluten does not usually cause damage - unless you have celiac disease.

Celiac Disease: When Symptoms Are More Serious

More serious gluten intolerance is called celiac disease. That's when gluten actually triggers the body's immune system. When people with celiac disease eat foods or use products containing gluten, their immune system responds by damaging the villi -- tiny, fingerlike projections in the small intestine that absorb the nutrients from food. For this reason it's considered an autoimmune disease.