Gluten. Gluten free. Gluten-free.
Most everyone has heard of these terms or has seen the acronym “GF.” But few seem to remember to set aside National Gluten-Free Day consistently on January 13th as a special recognized day since its birth in 2014.
Maybe some people don’t know how following this restrictive diet takes great personal efforts on a daily basis. Can it be that hard?
YES it is hard. Continue reading on to learn why this nationally-recognized day should NOT go unnoticed!
National Gluten-Free Day: What’s All the Fuss About?
Does everyone truly understand what eating gluten-free means, what it really feels like…or even how to live gluten-free?
Do you know how hard it is to avoid gluten altogether? Are you someone who can eat foods that contain gluten and suffer no ill effects?
Do you get to walk into a bakery and choose whatever you want to your heart’s (and taste buds’) content?
Can you go to a birthday party or a holiday event without having a nutrition discussion with the host or without having to ask to look at food labels before you eat anything?
Can you go to a football or basketball game without having to pack your own “safe” food…and do so discreetly since many venues have policies that state “no outside food?”
Can you go to any restaurant on a whim without looking ahead at menus? …Or without comprehensive questioning of the server (and sometimes also the cook or chef) about dedicated gluten-free cooking areas, preparation methods, and menu options?
These detailed hardships are some of the reasons why National Gluten-Free Day exists. Founded by Cassy Joy Garcia of Fed+Fit in 2014, it was initiated “with the goal of creating a fun and exciting awareness campaign for one dedicated day of gluten-free living.”
It is a day marked to acknowledge and respect our friends who need to live a life free of gluten due to health concerns.
But it is also a day for others to learn more about what it means to be gluten-free and how each of us can move forward with a helpful attitude toward the gluten-free crowd.
Whether you need to eat gluten-free or not, we all can bring awareness to the needs of those who tirelessly commit their health to it.
So Why Do People Go Gluten-Free?
It is important to learn WHY people go gluten-free as you recognize National Gluten-Free Day.
First, eating gluten-free is not a fad diet, at least not really anymore.
It might have been for some during the last decade when trendy internet gurus and fancy marketing lured with hype as opposed to evidence-based research. Going gluten-free was another ill-advised trial to overcome diabetes and fatigue, and yet again – weight loss.
The real reasons why most people avoid gluten is due to:
- An allergy to wheat proteins
- A gluten intolerance
- Celiac disease or other gluten-related condition that may or may not be symptomatic
Regardless of symptoms, ingesting gluten can negatively affect health for the above reasons.
So let’s break it down.
Wheat Allergy – an unfavorable immunological reaction to the gluten proteins specifically found in only wheat.
The U.S. identifies wheat as one of the top eight major food allergens.
These allergic reactions can be mild or severe and may affect the skin, intestinal tract, and respiratory system.
In severe cases, anaphylaxis (a sudden life-threatening reaction) can occur in some individuals.
People who have a wheat allergy may still safely consume gluten from other non-wheat sources.
Children with wheat allergy fortunately often outgrow it and can safely consume wheat later! 🥳
FACT: There is no such thing as a “gluten allergy.” People often use this term interchangeably with wheat allergy or sometimes celiac disease; but gluten allergy does not exist.
Gluten Intolerance vs Celiac Disease
Though these conditions have similar symptoms in response to gluten, the toll on the body and the long-term associated consequences are not the same.
Celiac Disease – a genetic autoimmune disorder that triggers an immune response. The body mistakenly identifies parts of gluten as foreign and destroys them. This process negatively impacts the small intestine where the absorption of nutrients occurs.
The lining of the small intestine is actually damaged, specifically on the villi. These small fingerlike projections that promote nutrient absorption basically take a hit and get flattened.
Seriously. See for yourself in the graphic below.
Nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body when these villi are damaged.
This lack of absorption can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies that could result in other health conditions such as osteoporosis and infertility, among others.
FACT: Celiac Disease is NOT an allergy.
Common symptoms of celiac disease include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Abdominal bloating and/or pain
- Bone or joint pain
- Canker sores inside the mouth
- Depression and Anxiety
- Dental enamel defects
- Iron-deficiency anemia
- Itchy skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
- Weight loss or failure to gain weight
NOTE: Some people with celiac disease have no symptoms. Fascinating, but dangerously inconspicuous.
In addition, if celiac disease is left untreated, it can lead to the onset of other autoimmune diseases like thyroid disease and type 1 diabetes. There is also a link between celiac disease and Sjogren’s syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease affecting the eyes and mouth.
Another condition, gluten ataxia, is an autoimmune disorder that affects nerve tissue, causing issues with muscle control and movement.
There is no cure for celiac disease.
Currently the only treatment for celiac disease is a lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet. Even a small ingestion of gluten, like bread crumbs from a knife used to spread peanut butter on regular bread, can cause small intestinal damage for those with celiac disease.
For most people, following a gluten-free diet will stop symptoms, heal existing intestinal damage in time, and prevent further damage.
Gluten Intolerance (also referred to as Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity or NCGS) – is not an autoimmune disorder that triggers an immune response (as it does in celiac disease) nor is it an allergic reaction or allergy. It is a food sensitivity.
People with NCGS cannot tolerate gluten and may have some of the same symptoms as those with celiac disease, but do not develop damage to the intestinal tract as does the celiac disease population.
NCGS is not well understood and there are currently no tests to identify it. However, it may not be a lifelong condition!
Research suggests that in the case of NCGS, after following a gluten-free diet for a one to two year period, some may re-test their sensitivity to gluten through food trials and experience no ill effects.
The GOOD NEWS: Celiac Disease and NCGS can both be treated with a gluten-free diet!
With medical attention by qualified health professionals, the correct education and added support, following a strict long-term gluten-free diet can bring healing and health.
And Then There is Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – also known as irritable colon, mucous colitis, spastic colitis, and spastic colon, is a condition that refers to a group of intestinal symptoms that occur together.
Symptoms often include abdominal pain coupled with frequent changes in bowel movements: constipation, diarrhea, or both. Symptoms may not always be persistent, but often return after resolving.
There is usually no visible intestinal damage in the digestive tract for those suffering with IBS.
Dietary changes are often recommended to treat the symptoms of IBS. This may include increasing fiber intake, following a FODMAP diet or avoiding gluten. Some people respond to different dietary treatments better than others and treatment is not one-size-fits-all.
Some individuals with IBS note that they cannot tolerate wheat specifically, but it is unclear as to why. So it seems there is a connection between NCGS and IBS. Some research suggests that a wheat free or a gluten-free diet may be appropriate for some people with IBS to relieve symptoms.
Those experiencing symptoms of IBS should consult their health care provider and a registered dietitian. Many people learn what bothers their system over time and can reduce symptoms.
The Difference Between Wheat and Gluten
Wait, what? There is a difference? Yes. Let’s discuss.
To start off, wheat is a plant that grows, gluten is not.
But let’s clear the air with some quick Q&A.
Does Gluten-Free Mean “Wheat Free?”
Yes, and NO. But Yes, much of the time.
For instance there is something called wheat starch.
According to, Dr. Schär Institute “Some gluten-free products contain certified gluten-free wheat starch.” This type of starch is considered to be safe for those who require gluten-free foods because it has been processed to remove gluten. For more information read this.
Does “Wheat Free” Mean Gluten-Free?
No, it does not. 🤔 🤯
If someone removes wheat from their diet, they are removing SOME gluten. But not ALL sources of gluten.
I want to make it clear that gluten is not a term related to only the grain called wheat.
OK. So What is Gluten?
Gluten is simply a protein. But finding it is not that simple.
Gluten is a complex mixture of proteins naturally found in the seeds (grains) of four plants:
- Triticale (a hybrid cross of wheat and rye)
Gluten can be found in all species and in all forms of these grains.
In addition, gluten is found in all foods, beverages, and ingredients that are made from these grains, which makes following a gluten-free diet tricky.
Oh and what about Oats? Some are labeled gluten-free, and yet others are not.
For more detailed information on what gluten is and where to find it, click here to read my blog post, “What is Gluten and Where is It?”
Where Else is Gluten Found?
Just knowing that gluten comes from wheat, rye, barley and triticale does not make it easy to identify where gluten is found in the foods we enjoy.
Oh – and did I mention that gluten is found in other things people use? Did you know that gluten might be in some medications, nutritional supplements, and cosmetics?
Yah – It gets tricky!
Click the image below for my short list of where else gluten is found.
What Can People Eat on a Gluten-Free Diet?
Sticking to a gluten-free diet is a challenge. This is especially true because modern foods rely heavily on gluten partially due to the desirable properties it provides in food.
From baked goods to frozen pizza to boxed cereals to packaged noodles, and in soups, dressings, and condiments – gluten-containing products can be found in nearly every grocery store aisle and hidden in foods you would not ever suspect.
Celebrate National Gluten-Free Day by Making Delicious Gluten-Free Food!
The most cost-effective and healthy way to follow a gluten-free diet is to seek out naturally gluten-free whole foods. Choose ones in their most natural state; the act of processing may add or expose the food to gluten.
- Lean cuts of meat and poultry
- Fish and seafood
- Low-fat dairy
- Beans, legumes, and nuts
- Whole grains – such as brown and wild rice, buckwheat, corn, gluten-free oats, quinoa, and sorghum
Eating gluten-free can be delicious. And it should be delicious.
Who Should Go Gluten-Free?
If you do not have celiac disease or another known gluten-intolerance, experts agree that you should not completely remove gluten from your diet. National Gluten-Free Day is not promoting a gluten-free diet for every individual. Not at all.
In many instances, people may find relief from symptoms such as fatigue, bloating and depression when they remove gluten-rich foods from their diet. They may assume that they feel better as a result of going gluten-free. And that may be very true.
But…the improvements they feel could be from the reduction of highly processed flour-based foods and snacks as they replace them with healthier whole foods on which human bodies thrive.
If removing gluten from your diet makes you feel better, then it is definitely worth exploring.
Just work with your health care provider FIRST to rule out any gluten-related health conditions (like those discussed in this blog) that may need more urgent attention. Also consult with a registered dietitian for expert nutrition counseling, advice, and support.
Also understand that there are risks to going gluten-free.
Risks to Going Completely Gluten-Free
The nutritional quality of a gluten-free diet can become problematic. Important vitamins and minerals can be missing in gluten-free foods and your nutrient intake will likely change when you make the switch. It does depend of course.
For example, some gluten-free cereals and breads vary greatly from the products they are replacing in terms of nutrient profiles.
Typically, whole grain gluten-containing products are naturally higher (or enriched to a point that is higher) in the following nutrients than most gluten-free alternatives available today:
Many wheat replacements are lower in protein as well.
In addition, some gluten-free processed foods are higher in fats and sugars than the gluten-filled originals.
As it is very important to read food labels for gluten, it is also important (as it is for everybody else) to examine food labels for sodium, fats, and added sugars when comparing foods to purchase.
Other Gluten-Related National Observances
In addition to National Gluten-Free Day, other dates throughout the year are set aside to recognize the needs of the gluten-free community! Woo-hoo!
Other nationally-recognized days, weeks, and months that are related to gluten and lie ahead are listed below (as sources from nationaldaycalendar.com).
National Celiac Disease Awareness Month (May) – a month to raise research and education support for celiac disease for continued efforts in finding the cause and the cure of the condition.
National Celiac Disease Day (September 13, 2022) – a day that encourages support for the over 3 million people with celiac disease. This day also promotes the importance of not only diagnosis but also the provision of resources to those already diagnosed.
This day was approved by the U.S. senate in 2010 in honor of Dr. Samuel Gee, who identified the link between diet and celiac disease.
National Gluten-Free Diet Awareness Month (November) – founded by Beyond Celiac (formerly known as The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness), this month encourages consumers to consider their gluten-free friends as they plan holiday preparations when celebrations with food occur more frequently. Safely make something gluten-free to share!
National Gluten-Free Baking Week (the week before Christmas) – a week set aside to bring awareness to the difficulties in navigating gluten-related conditions around the holiday season. Acknowledge and celebrate delicious gluten-free desserts by baking one yourself!
So don’t forget to mark your calendars!
How to Observe National Gluten-Free Day and Related Observances
- Recognize it by eating only gluten-free foods and beverages for the day.
- Try some great gluten-free recipes from yours truly on The Marching Apron.
- Stop at a restaurant or bakery that offers gluten-free foods and beverages and purchase something for you and a gluten-free friend or relative.
- If you drink alcohol, give gluten-free beer a try.
- Encourage people you know who experience undiagnosed gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms to seek medical attention from a gastroenterologist.
- If you or someone you know have symptoms of celiac disease or have risk factors for developing celiac disease take action! Talk to your health care provider and get screened or tested.
- Refer to evidence-based nutrition information from credible sources when learning more about the gluten-free diet.
- Share how you recognize National Gluten-Free Day on social media and spread awareness.
- Take note of other nationally-recognized gluten-related dates listed above and plan for them.
I am one of the fortunate individuals who does not need to avoid gluten or any food allergens.
But I live it everyday as I support my husband and his family with celiac disease in addition to many other individuals in the world who work to minimize health issues by avoiding gluten.
I wrote this article because I empathize with those who have to follow a short-term or lifelong gluten-free diet and I advocate for them. And I hope you do, too.
How will you recognize these gluten-related nationally-recognized dates? Please leave a comment below!