Should You Be Gluten-Free?

by Beaming with Health on September 16, 2012

I get a lot of questions about gluten. Here are my top 4 FAQs. I hope this is helpful!

What is gluten, anyway?

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, rye, barley, spelt, and some oats. It is the protein found in these foods that many people’s immune system views as an “invader”. Thus, the body responds with symptoms like inflammation, digestive issues, rashes, and headaches. These are all reactions to try to rid the body of this “invader”.

Is gluten really that bad?

Well, decide for yourself. There is a whole range of reactivity that people experience to gluten. For example, those with Celiac Disease usually have a pretty strong reaction to gluten, and must eliminate it completely from their diet. According to Celiac.com:

Celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance, is a genetic disorder that affects at least 1 in 133  Americans. Symptoms of celiac disease can range from the classic features, such as diarrhea, weight loss, and malnutrition, to latent symptoms such as isolated nutrient deficiencies but no gastrointestinal symptoms. The disease mostly affects people of European (especially Northern European) descent, but recent studies show that it also affects Hispanic, Black and Asian populations as well.

Even if you do not have Celiac Disease, many people often have what is known as a sub-clinical intolerance to gluten. This is more of a sensitivity. Both Celiac Disease and sub-clinical intolerances can be difficult to test for. There are tests available including blood panels and biopsies, which are not always completely accurate. Frustrating, right?

Lab testing and sub-clinical intolerances aside, gluten-containing foods have been shown to be inflammatory. Chronic inflammation (low grade inflammation over a long period of time) has now been linked to several chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It can wreak havoc on your sensitive gut lining over time. Thus, you might consider eliminating or at least lessening your intake of gluten.

Additionally, gluten has been shows to leach iron out of the body. Thus, for women, who are often prone to becoming anemic, gluten can generally be a bad food.

If gluten sensitivity is so hard to diagnose, what the heck do I do?

If you think Celiac Disease might be at play, it is a good idea to visit your doctor and speak with them about your testing options. With that said, my opinion is everyone, yes everyone, should try a gluten-free challenge at some point in their lives. This is the best test available. Simply remove all ingredients and products containing gluten for at least 1 month- 6 weeks and see how your body reacts.

Are their any symptoms that abate during this period such as headaches or digestive symptoms? Do you simply feel more energized? Do you feel stronger during your workouts? Do you sleep better? These are the things you would want to think about during your challenge period.

The bottom line is that gluten is known to be an inflammatory food. It is linked with several diseases including autoimmune conditions like MS or digestive conditions like Ulcerative Colitis. If you feel great, maybe you are fine with gluten, but it is always worth the experiment to see if you can feel even better!

Grains containing gluten have been around for centuries, why are they such a problem now?

True statement, not only have these grains been around for ages, but so many different cultures include gluten-containing grains as a staple in their diet. So what gives? Why have so many people become allergic? Well, there are a lot of theories here. One is overexposure. We just eat too much of it! This can be true with any food. The body likes variety, so overeating any food can cause the body to develop an allergy to it.

Another theory relates to the processing and refinement of these grains. If we were eating whole wheat berries, or breads made from fresh ground wheat berries, this might be a different discussion. However, usually we are eating overly processed white and wheat flour (yes, even whole wheat flour is processed quite a bit). With all the processing, the body simply doesn’t recognize the proteins as a food. Thus it attacks, mounting an immune response. We need all the enzymes and nutrients that nature intended to still be intact for our body to be able to digest the food.

While I am on the processing soap box, a lot of the gluten-containing products we eat have been genetically modified. Thus making the gluten of today much more inflammatory. Not just that but it is more fattening and addictive. No wonder we have such a hard time staying away from it.

I hope these FAQs on gluten were helpful. If you have more questions or are interested in doing a gluten-free challenge, but would like a little support, please reach out to me! Going gluten-free really isn’t that hard once you discover all the amazing foods you can eat (like the delicious gluten-free chocolate cupcakes in the picture above)! I look forward to hearing from you!

Take me to more gluten-free recipes!

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