| By Irina Belfer-Lehat

Why is everyone talking about “The Gluten-Free Diet?” How did that miracle diet change Novak Djokovic's game and help him to climb the ladder to number one in the world? Do we all need to follow this diet to miraculously improve our tennis game? Here is some educational information and a brief overview of the gluten-free diet that can help you to decide for yourself, if you can benefit from eating gluten-free.

The origins
The gluten-free diet was originally designed for individuals diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Celiac sufferers can develop headaches, tingling, fatigue, muscle pain, skin rashes and joint pain because the autoimmune attack at the root of the disease gradually erodes the wall of the intestine, leading to poor absorption of iron, folate and other nutrients that affect everything from the body’s energy to brain function.

While it is very difficult to diagnose this disease, many who experience the above symptoms may be sensitive to gluten and hence, benefit from a gluten-free diet.

What is gluten?
Gluten (from the Latin “gluten” or "glue") is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain types, including barley and rye. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, thus helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture. The restriction list of this diet is very long, due to the fact that most of the foods that we consume are processed in some way.

People who are not severely allergic to gluten might not find the need to eliminate all of the foods containing gluten, but perhaps avoid some. People with Celiac Disease, usually are very strict and often work with the nutritionist to create a complete meal plan.

What is allowed on a gluten-free diet?
Some of the items that are allowed on a gluten-free diet include:

►Beans, seeds, nuts in their natural, unprocessed form
►Fresh eggs
►Fresh meats, fish and poultry (not breaded, batter-coated or marinated)
►Fruits and vegetables
►Most dairy products

It's important to make sure that they are not processed or mixed with gluten-containing grains, additives or preservatives. Many grains and starches can be part of a gluten-free diets, including amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat, corn and corn meal, flax, gluten-free flours, millet, quinoa, rice, soy, tapioca and teff.

Those on a gluten-free diet must avoid all food and drinks containing:

►Barley (malt, malt flavoring and malt vinegar are usually made from barley)
►Rye, triticale (a cross between wheat and rye)

Avoiding wheat can be challenging because wheat products go by numerous names. Consider the many types of wheat flour on supermarket shelves—bromated, enriched, phosphated, plain and self-rising. Here are some other wheat products to avoid:

►Bulgur, durum flour, farina, graham flour, kamut, semolina
►Beer, breads, cakes and pies, candies, cereals, croutons, cookies, French fries, gravies, imitational meat or seafood, matzo, pastas and salad dressings

There are some risks associated with this diet, if not followed properly. People who follow a gluten-free diet may have low levels of certain vitamins and nutrients in their diets. Many grains are enriched with vitamins. Avoiding grains with a gluten-free diet may mean eating fewer of these enriched products. Ask your dietitian to review your diet to see that you are getting enough of these key nutrients: Iron, calcium, fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate.

Cutting out gluten is the most reliable way to determine if you are, in fact, sensitive to the protein—and if you are sensitive, it's the only treatment.

Irina Belfer-Lehat

Irina Belfer-Lehat of Nutrition Solutions Co. is a New York State-licensed dietitian and certified dietitian-nutritionist. Irina Lehat RD Nutrition Solutions offers group classes starting in September, for kids in kindergarten through high school. Small groups, affordable prices! Mention this article and receive 20 percent off any services. For more information, call (917) 769-8031, e-mail irinalehat@gmail.com or visit www.irinalehat.com.