Raisins to the Rescue
By Julie Miller Jones

When it comes to food news, allergies to peanuts and other ingredients might dominate daily headlines. However, a more troubling condition among today’s consumers is celiac disease, which is an adverse response to gluten proteins. In fact, celiac disease is the most common food intolerance and can result in vitamin deficiencies that are especially serious in children, who need proper nutrition to develop and grow, according to Julie Miller Jones, Ph.D, CNS, LN, who recently presented on this topic during the American Dietetic Association’s national convention in Philadelphia.
Among the possible symptoms of celiac disease, Jones says, are weight loss, fatigue, unexplained anemia and abdominal pain. Worldwide, one in 100 people are affected. In the United States, one in 133 people — or 3 million in total — suffer from celiac disease, but only one in 4,700 are diagnosed. Those at highest risk of having the disease are those with close family members who have the disease.
Since celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, those with other autoimmune disorders, including Type 1 Diabetes, are at higher risk for the celiac disease, Jones notes. In fact, the genetic marker for celiac exists right next to the gene that’s associated with Type 1 Diabetes. Like any autoimmune disease, there must be two conditions for the disease to present itself: the predisposing gene and a factor in the environment that precipitates the disease — in this case, the gluten protein.
Moreover, the frequency of celiac condition is 43 times greater in children with Down syndrome than in children without. The precise reason for this is not fully known.
But what’s all this got to do with raisins?
Gluten-containing grains include spelt, kamut, emmer, einkorn, durum wheat products such as wheat bran and semolina, rye and barley, as found in malt vinegar and beer. However, antioxidant-rich foods that help to mitigate the inflammation caused by celiac disease include alternate whole grains such as sorghum, brown rice and pure oats (non-gluten contaminated oats), vegetables, fruits and dried fruits such as — you guessed it — raisins.
In addition, whole grains, fruits and dried fruits provide much-needed dietary fiber that the average American diet doesn’t have. Further, foods such as raisins help to address low iron concerns. Raisins also contain inulin, which promotes absorption of iron and other minerals such as calcium and zinc.
The effects of gluten intolerance are immediate and have long-term adverse consequences, Jones points out. In the presence of gluten, the villi — fingerlike projections in the small intestine responsible for absorption — are destroyed. When this occurs, absorption of all nutrients is impaired until the gut heals. In addition to causing gas, diarrhea and bloating, there are problems for the brain/nervous system, bones, liver and other organs, which are deprived of needed nutrients.
Perhaps most significantly, celiac disease may lead to conditions such as osteoporosis, neurological problems and even colon cancer or lymphoma.
Although raisins are not the end-all, be-all antidote to this illness, they are one of several nutritional ways to fight back. SF&WB
Editor’s Note: Information for this article was provided by the California Raisin Marketing Board. For more information, please visit www.CalRaisins.org .