Wellness: Why Philly’s Gone Gaga for Gluten-Free

Wheat loss hits close to home

If you’re the kind of person who pays attention to fad diets — and who isn’t? — you’ve definitely heard about gluten-free. Gwyneth’s done it. So has Zooey. Gluten-free menus, bakeries and “cleanses” are appearing all over town, making Philly’s health-arati wonder: Can I lose weight by going gluten-free?

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Truth is, gluten-free diets aren’t all that glamorous — and don’t work for everyone. Gluten, a protein in wheat, rye and barley, negatively impacts a small, but not insignificant, population. Effects range from mild sensitivities (bloating, headaches, mood swings, digestive ailments) to celiac disease, a chronic, genetic auto-immune disorder of the small intestine that can cause weight loss, vitamin deficiency, digestive difficulties and severe malnutrition. Diagnosed with a blood test and bowel biopsy, celiac is treated with a gluten-free diet.

Anthony DiMarino, director of Jefferson Hospital’s new Celiac Center, cites three possible culprits in an increased incidence of celiac: the large amount of gluten in today’s average diet; a possible change in gluten’s chemical makeup, making it harder to digest; and, thanks to society’s germ-free obsession, weaker immune systems. He also says that once diagnosed, celiac patients usually gain — not lose — weight.

Still, some people with gluten sensitivity may slim down by going gluten-free. That’s how Bridgeport health coach Jennifer Fugo lost 20 pounds. She insists, however, “If you’re not sensitive to gluten, it won’t work. I lost inflammation, not fat.”

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