Gluten-free diets are all the rage right now. Celebrities are giving up gluten, parents of children on the Autism spectrum are eliminating it in an attempt to help their kids, and even Oprah Winfrey took it out of her diet in a cleanse last year.

But giving up gluten is a big commitment. Not only is it in bread, pasta, oatmeal and more, but it's often used as a thickener and an emulsifier. It goes under obvious names, like "whole wheat," but may also be present as "modified food starch." If you're going to take the effort to eliminate gluten, you want to be relatively sure that it will help you or your child.

Definitely Go Gluten Free...

...if you have Celiac disease!

People with Celiac disease have such a strong intolerance to gluten that their immune system attacks the villi of the gastrointestinal track along with the offending gluten. This can cause all sorts of symptoms, ranging from stomach upset and bloating to both weight loss and weight gain, to underdeveloped tooth enamel, depression, and more.

Most people get diagnosed with Celiac disease because a doctor with a keen eye notices patterns in their health history and runs a simple blood test. You and your child are at a higher risk for the disease if someone you're related to has it, or if you have other autoimmune disorders.

The only way to control Celiac disease is to entirely eliminate gluten from the diet. Even the tiniest bit of gluten can cause a resurgence of symptoms, and many people with Celiac disease notice if their food shared preparation surfaces with gluten-containing foods.

Consider Going Gluten Free...

...if you suspect gluten intolerance.

Many people are sensitive to gluten but don't have the autoimmune response that people with Celiac disease have. Usually, symptoms of gluten intolerance include bloating, gas, and discomfort after eating, and there's a wide rage of symptom severity.

It's harder to test for a gluten intolerance, since there aren't markers in the bloodstream like there are for Celiac. In fact, the best way to test is to eliminate gluten for a while. Taking gluten out of your diet or your child's, then reintroducing it slowly while you monitor your symptoms, will help you determine whether it's the cause of any gastrointestinal upset you may be feeling.

..if you have a child on the Autism spectrum.

Although the studies that show gluten helping autistic children are small and not as well controlled as you might like, there's some reason to think that eliminating gluten may help autistic children function better. While the effort involved in going gluten free may mean it's not your first choice for treating your child, you may want to consider it if you've tried other things and nothing has worked.

Again, the best way to determine if dietary changes will help your child is to eliminate it and see what happens. If things get better, try adding it back in slowly. If they get worse again, you'll know that the diet will help. If nothing changes, move on to another option.

For Everyone Else

If you and your child don't have any of the diseases or symptoms discussed above, going gluten free probably won't have much of an effect on you. If your body can digest it, there's no reason not to eat it, and it's perfectly healthy for you to do so.

However, it's important to teach your children about dietary restrictions that other kids might have. With Celiac disease becoming a more common diagnosis, not to mention the higher prevalence in recent years of peanut and other food allergies, you may want to teach your kids how other children have to eat. In particular, teach your child not to share food with his friends unless it's in some approved manner, like during a class party. This will keep him from inadvertently giving another child something that makes him sick.

For your part, if you're throwing a party for children, remember to ask other parents about their child's dietary restrictions. That way, you'll be sure to have food everyone can enjoy, even gluten-free cookies and gluten-free birthday cake!