There’s gluten in that….don’t panic!

By Emily Harrison, MS, RD, LD

One of the things we can be assured of is that there will always be a new food, diet or health fad. Gluten free is the latest trend. I have even seen bottled water and shampoo recently labeled as “gluten-free”. What are we to make of this new fad? What is gluten and should dancers avoid it? For the majority of people, gluten is no problem and is part of a normal healthy diet. However there is a small segment of people who may need to limit or avoid it all together.

What is gluten? Gluten is a term that describes tiny parts (amino acids) of a group of proteins. Basically it is a naturally occurring protein found in rye, barley, triticale, spelt, kamut, bulger, oat bran, some oats, all wheat products. Other food products that may also contain hidden gluten are malt flavor/ extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, beer and ale.

Should dancers avoid gluten? The answer for the vast majority of dancers is NO! Gluten is not a scary, artificial, or chemical additive that must be avoided. It occurs naturally in the whole grain products mentioned above. Whole grains are an important source of good, energy producing carbohydrates that dancers need to keep them going during class, rehearsal, or performance. Whole grain products contain fiber, B-vitamins, some iron, and some protein. Dancers who unnecessarily avoid gluten may become deficient in important nutrients. Gluten is what makes bread tender and doughy. For most people, there is no reason to avoid gluten and there are many reasons to eat the healthy whole grains that contain this natural protein. Well meaning celebrities further and food companies out to capitalize on the latest fad, complicate the minefield of mis-information surrounding the topic of gluten.

Is there anyone who should avoid gluten? Yes. Going gluten-free is the best known treatment for anyone with celiac disease, an auto-immune condition in which the body reacts to gluten like it is a foreign invader. Damage to the intestines results from eating gluten which causes pain, bloating, and nutrient deficiencies. The prevalence of gluten allergy has grown over the years. We are now more aware of it than ever. There may be cases of a more mild g If you suspect a gluten sensitivity talk to your physician or dietitian. A blood test can detect antibodies formed as an immune response to digested gluten.luten intolerance that cause bowel discomfort, eating issues, and even behavior problems particularly in young children. Good scientific evidence in this area is in its preliminary stages. There is not enough evidence to suggest that avoiding gluten can help with autistic spectrum disorders. Going gluten free requires careful reading of food labels and planning ahead if one is going out to eat. There are apps that help track gluten content of many food items that can help with the confusion. Seeing a registered dietitian is very important if one suspects a gluten allergy or intolerance. Some gluten-free alternatives are corn, corn flour, quinoa, quinoa flour, rice, potatoes, soy flour, arrowroot, amaranth, flax, millet, bean flours, Jerusalem artichoke pasta. A gluten free diet can be healthy if planned well. In some cases a vitamin/ mineral supplement may be necessary.

About Emily Harrison, MS, RD, LD

Emily is a registered dietitian (RD) and holds both a bachelor's and master's degree in nutrition from Georgia State University. Her master's thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and energy balance and the relationship to injuries. She completed her dietetic internship through GSU and has experience providing nutrition counseling for people with diverse needs including eating disorders. Emily received her dance training at the Rotaru Ballet School and Boston Ballet School. She was a professional dancer for 11 years. Dancing with Boston Ballet II and Ballet Internationale in Indianapolis, IN where she worked with legendary Kirov dancers Eldar Aliev and Irina Kolpakova. She also danced for Emmy award winning choreographer Michael Smuin in his San Francisco company. Emily has been with the Atlanta Ballet since 1998, first as a company dancer and now as faculty in the NASD accredited Centre for Dance Education. She is a dance educator for all ages working primarily in the pre-professional division. She also provides comprehensive nutrition services for Atlanta Ballet company, school, and outreach division. Emily is also the mother of two children and understands the unique challenges parents face when it comes to nutrition. Learn more at