Alexa Sparkman, registered dietician/nutritionist
Sparkman is a registered dietician/nutritionist at Alexa Sparkman and Associates Nutrition in Northwest Austin. She has more than 30 years of experience as a registered dietician and nutritionist.
Dr. Todd Sheer, gastroenterologist at Austin Diagnostic Clinic
Sheer obtained his medical education from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and completed his internship and residency at the Naval Medical Center San Diego in California.
What is gluten?
Sparkman: Gluten is the protein in grains that gives dough the elasticity to rise. It contains two molecules: gliadin and glutenin.
What are some common foods with gluten in them?
Sheer: Granola, obviously things like bread or any bread products … soy sauce, salad dressings and even things like lip balm or any cosmetics that go on the lips can have gluten in them.
What is celiac disease?
Sparkman: Celiac disease is an aversion to the protein molecule gliadin. It is a genetic predisposition and not caused by eating gluten. People with celiac disease may have no symptoms or experience gastrointestinal problems. The symptoms are the result of the body’s reaction to the presence of the gliadin molecule. Gluten-free foods do not contain the gliadin molecule.
Celiac disease is an immune system reaction to eating gluten. It causes the small intestine to become inflamed over time and damages the intestine’s lining, according to the Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit medical care, research and education organization. The small intestine is lined with hair-like projections called villi, which absorb nutrients. Celiac disease damages the villi.
Sources: American College of Gastroenterology, The Mayo Clinic[/caption]
What is your opinion about consuming gluten-free foods if a person does not have celiac disease?
Sparkman: If the only reason is weight control, there is no point in it. If the person has a sensitivity and they notice a reduction in gas and bloating when they eat gluten-free, then certainly they would be a candidate for having the dietitian figure out just which carbohydrates they are sensitive to.
Gluten-free is not necessarily healthier, [and] it won’t necessarily help you lose weight. A lot of people that are gluten-free … it’s a more difficult diet to follow, so they are eating less. They are still losing weight because it’s fewer calories, so it’s not magic. Certainly the people who eat it benefit from diet changes.
How much gluten is healthy to consume?
Sheer: Gluten is not toxic or dangerous unless you have celiac disease. So there is no unsafe amount of gluten to eat. ... Gluten may not make certain people feel well when they eat bread; they may feel tired or bloated, but it’s not dangerous. There are a lot of healthy gluten products out there, and actually people who are on a strict gluten-free diet are at risk for several vitamin deficiencies and mineral deficiencies. … A gluten-free diet may not be in someone’s best interest unless they [know they] have celiac disease.
I think it is always wise if you think you have a problem with wheat or gluten to come get tested for celiac disease first. It’s a simple, cheap, very accurate blood test. Once people go on a gluten-free diet, the test is no longer accurate.
Where to find gluten-free foods
Northwest Austin has many locally owned businesses that offer gluten-free foods, including dinners, desserts and to-go meals.
Brick Oven Restaurant
10710 Research Blvd. • 512-345-6181
Iron Cactus North
10001 Stonelake Blvd. • 512-794-8778
Ka-Prow Thai & Sushi Bistro
1200 W. Howard Lane, Ste. O • 512-990-2111
Kerbey Lane Cafe
13435 US 183 • 512-258-7757
10201 Jollyville Road • 512-345-1042
12233 RM N. 620, Ste. 114 • 512-433-6860
My Fit Foods
10740 Research Blvd., Ste. 100 • 512-795-9421
12415 N. I-35 • 512-821-2531
North by Northwest Restaurant & Brewery
10010 N. Capital of Texas Hwy. • 512-467-6969
Pour House Pints & Pies
11835 Jollyville Road • 512-270-4740
10225 Research Blvd. • 512-345-7492
10001 Research Blvd. • 512-346-5959
8701 Parmer Lane, Ste. 1125 • 512-670-1000
2521 Rutland Drive • 512-835-6458
2500 W. Parmer Lane, Ste. 160 • 512-255-2013
13376 N. US 183, Ste. 152 • 512-258-9145
This list is not comprehensive.