The term “gluten-free” seems to be popping up everywhere.

It’s showing up on our social media channels, on daytime talk shows, in the newspaper and magazines, on restaurant menus, and of course grocery store shelves. But what does it mean, how does it affect the population, and how can affected North Texans lead normal, healthy lives?

Gluten is the general name for the proteins found in grains like wheat, rye and barley. It’s main job is to help foods maintain their shape, and it’s responsible for giving dough elasticity and a chewy texture.

Gluten is processed normally by most people, but a small amount of people have an immune reaction to consuming gluten caused by either an allergy or Celiac disease. Dr. Rachel Begun, M.S., R.D., a nationally recognized registered dietitian and certified natural chef, said in an interview with the Dallas Morning News that Celiac disease affects an estimated 3 million Americans.

“When gluten is consumed, the body triggers an immune response that attacks and damages the intestinal lining,” Begun said. “The damage prevents nutrients from being absorbed into the body, which often leads to nutrition deficiencies and their associated conditions and symptoms.”

Symptoms can include digestive problems like abdominal bloating and pain, gas and chronic diarrhea, as well as a severe skin rash or anemia. Left untreated, Celiac disease can lead to serious health conditions and complications, including osteoporosis, infertility, and other autoimmune disorders.

“If celiac disease is suspected, the first step a physician will take is to do a blood test to test for antibodies to gluten,” Begun said. “If blood testing for antibodies comes back positive, the second step is taken to confirm the diagnosis, which is an endoscopy with small intestine biopsy.”

Begun added that even if a patient is not diagnosed with Celiac disease, there still may be some level of a gluten sensitivity.

So what’s a North Texans to do if they’re diagnosed with Celiac disease or a sensitivity to gluten. There are many support groups in North Texas to help provide a special forum for questions, tips, and camaraderie, whether it be on their designated social media channels or in person at meetings.

The Gluten Intolerance Group of Greater Dallas is one of those support groups, and besides offering up helpful information like gluten-free grocery stores or bed & breakfast spots, they also provide a list of gluten-friendly restaurants.

Want to know about gluten-free friendly restaurants around your area? Popular business rating and review app Yelp even offers a list of the “Best Gluten Free Restaurants” in your neighborhood, with up-to-date, honest reviews from diners. And guess what? A lot of the restaurants are popular chain restaurants, so you don’t have to drive far or make it a special occasion to dine gluten-free!

“Since I am in a vegetarian family with gluten free members, knowing there is going to be something delicious on the menu that can meet dietary restrictions is a huge plus for us,” wrote Erick S. about P.F. Chang’s China Bistro.

“If you want an awesome gluten free burger, this is the place to go in Dallas,” wrote Sooner T. about Twisted Root Burger Co. “I had the ranch burger and cheese fries. They were great! I was pleased with a number of gluten free options.”

May is national Celiac Awareness Month, supported by the Beyond Celiac, a national foundation for celiac awareness, so there’s no better time to learn more about the condition, whether you think you might have symptoms of a gluten intolerance or you would like to eliminate gluten from your diet to be a better well being.

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