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6 Questions to ask yourself when deciding to go gluten-free

Maggie Giuffrida is a graduate of The University of Arizona where she earned a degree in journalism. She is a contributing writer for SheKnows, specializing in health and fitness. Maggie is a certified yoga instructor and health and well...

What you need to know before ditching gluten for good

From grocery stores to restaurants to websites and magazines, everyone seems to be going gluten-free. So should we really all be on it? Well, that's still up for debate.

For those people who truly do have an intolerance and deal with Celiac Disease, adapting such a diet and lifestyle is crucial and necessary for overall health and well-being.

"We don't have proof to say if some are right or others wrong," said Dr. Sheila Crowe, M.D., spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association, in an article for the Huffington Post discussing whether or not a gluten-free lifestyle is really the way to go for the average patient.

According to April Peveteaux — author of Gluten Is My Bitch: Rants, Recipes and Ridiculousness for the Gluten-Free and the upcoming The Gluten-Free Cheat Sheet — the most obvious symptom that shows you may have a gluten problem is gastrointestinal distress (diarrhea, vomiting, stomach swelling, pain) after you eat food containing gluten.

"If that keeps happening, you've got to get to the bottom of your food situation," Peveteaux says. "But there are other not as obvious signs that are also common and can make gluten intolerance/celiac disease difficult to diagnose. Those include (but are not limited to) migraines, skin rashes or acne, fatigue, joint pain, depression, "foggy" brain, clumsiness and more."

More: Fad diets you should think twice about

For April, who suffers from celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that occurs in genetically predisposed people of all ages), going gluten-free was a life-saving decision.

"I was incredibly, debilitatingly ill before my diagnosis and subsequent removal of gluten from my diet," she told SheKnows. "If I'd kept going, I would have developed even more symptoms and the potential for diseases related to malnutrition, lymphoma, osteoporosis or stroke. Celiac is a very serious disease with a weird solution, which is to stop eating gluten."

No matter where you fall on the gluten-free spectrum, one thing does seem certain: This diet trend is here for the long haul. But, before you go jumping on the bandwagon to the Land of No Gluten, here are six things to consider:

1. How comfortable are you reading labels?

Gluten is a substance present in cereal grains, such as wheat and barley or rye. It is a staple in many products on the market, and can even be hiding in things like veggie burgers and salad dressings, or certain supplements and medications, making it especially tricky to avoid — hence, why it's referred to as a "hidden danger."

If you're truly going to go gluten-free, you'll definitely need to step up your label reading.

2. How severe are your symptoms?

Roughly one out of 200 people has an intolerance to gluten — celiac disease. For such people, it is vital to remain on a gluten-free diet.

According to a 2006 study, about 0.4 percent of people have a "doctor-diagnosed wheat allergy," in which a true allergic reaction to wheat (which contains gluten) results in skin, respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms.

A growing number of people are reported to have what's called "non-celiac gluten sensitivity," which may result in similar symptoms, and can be suppressed by a restrictive, gluten-free diet.

3. Do you experience these signs of sensitivity?

Symptoms of gluten sensitivity are "foggy mind," depression, ADHD-like behavior, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, bone or joint pain and chronic fatigue.

4. Have you done your nutrition research?

Just because you're going gluten-free, doesn't mean you have to ban all grain-eating completely. There are options out there to satisfy your stomach, such as amaranth, millet, buckwheat and quinoa.

More: 18 Gluten-free snacks that don't taste like cardboard

"Adding a great gluten-free pasta (it's true, they're out there) means I can still enjoy mac and cheese and lasagna," Peveteaux says. "I also keep a loaf of gluten-free sliced bread by either Udi's, Glutino or the Whole Foods brand handy when I get a hankering for a peanut butter sandwich. And gluten-free crackers are a must when you love cheese as much as I do."

5. What's your ultimate goal?

Ditching gluten doesn't always result in dropping a dress size. At the end of the day, going gluten-free isn't going to guarantee you lose weight immediately.

"If you replace gluten-containing products with their gluten-free counterparts, you're likely to ingest more sugar and fat (and therefore calories)," says Crowe.

However, if you're making a conscious effort to kick bagels, pasta, bread and crackers to the curb in favor of fiber-filled whole grains, you'll likely notice a difference in your body and energy levels.

6. Did you double check with your doctor?

Before diagnosing and treating yourself for celiac disease, or a gluten-sensitivity, make an appointment with your doctor. If your doctor does happen to find that you're sensitive to gluten, seek the help of a registered dietitian.

"People who need to be gluten-free — this is not celiac disease light — the recommendation is for them to see a registered dietitian who is an expert in celiac disease," Crowe says. "The average doctor A) does not have the time, and B) the knowledge to counsel them on the nutrients they'll need, the addition of fiber, what grains are naturally gluten-free."

More: The best celiac blogs for moms

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