Gluten is a popular buzzword in the health arena these days. No longer a niche market, gluten free foods have their own sections even in commercial grocery stores.
If you are wondering what all of the hype is about and if it is legit or just another fashionable fad diet or hippie-granola battle cry, read on because this is for you.
If you are eating gluten free sometimes, but aren’t really sure why this post is also for you.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and other grains. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. It affects the elasticity of dough, which in turn affects the chewiness of baked products.
The challenge with gluten is while it acts like a glue that holds food together, it also acts somewhat like a glue in many people’s intestines, either creating a sticky coating over the fine villi of the small intestine that are responsible for nutrient absorption, or by triggering inflammation that hinders proper digestion.
Who does gluten affect?
This is a tricky question to answer. Gluten definitely affects people with Celiac disease (gluten intolerance), an autoimmune disorder where eating gluten leads to inflammation and damage in the small intestine, making it harder for the body to absorb nutrients. This condition can be medically tested and affects approximately 1 out of every 100 people in the US.
Then there are many other people who will not test positive for Celiac disease, but definitely experience side effects from eating gluten. These people are gluten sensitive. Unlike celiac disease, gluten sensitivity doesn’t damage the intestine, and there is no accepted medical test for it. Research estimates that 18 million Americans have gluten sensitivity.
Some natural medicine practitioners believe gluten causes problems in all people. They propose it’s more than likely each and every person that eats foods that contain gluten has some kind of reaction to it, even if the reaction is too small to outwardly notice. They believe this means we are all sensitive to gluten in one way or another.
What are symptoms of gluten sensitivity and gluten intolerence?
How do you know if you are sensitive to gluten, gluten intolerant, or will just do better eating foods that are gluten free? Here are some of the common symptoms of gluten intolerance (Celiac) and gluten sensitivity:
Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance:
- stomach upset
- abdominal pain
Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity:
- stomach upset
- abdominal pain
The symptoms of gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity are the same. They are also quite general and could indicate many other conditions as well as, or instead of gluten reactions. With gluten intolerance, the symptoms are often more severe and can lead to malnutrition and weight loss. Left untreated, people with celiac disease can also develop further complications such as other autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, thyroid disease, and cancer.
To compound the confusion, some people with gluten sensitivity have reactions to gluten that are just as severe as someone with Celiacs, while others hardly notice their symptoms, if at all. What a confusing mess! How are you really supposed to know if gluten is causing or contributing to your symptoms?
How do I know if I should be gluten-free?
The only way to decrease the problems that are associated with gluten allergies is to avoid eating those foods that contain gluten. While it may seem hard to do, it’s the only way to prevent health issues that could potentially lead to disease and death. It’s not worth dealing with the pain and the fear of disease and death when simply eliminating certain foods can eliminate the problem.
At the very least, try eliminating gluten from your life for 2-6 weeks and see if your symptoms decrease or even disappear. Many people feel digestive relief and notice they have a flatter tummy when they eliminate gluten. We recommend eliminating gluten from your life (and not just from your food) because gluten is in a surprising number of products. It’s important to read labels and know what to avoid and what you can consume.
Stay tuned for a list of items that commonly contain gluten for you to avoid and a list of “go to foods” in the next post!