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Why Should I Avoid Gluten?

Start reading labels and you will come to find that gluten is pretty much in everything… of the processed variety anyways. There are entire grocery aisles that are devoted to bread, cereal, crackers, pastries and pasta. It’s also the hidden ingredient in your salad dressings, spices, condiments, deli meats and candy. But what is gluten anyway? And why would we want to avoid it?

Gluten is a protein found in many grains. It’s what gives bread that elastic texture. Sources of gluten include barley, bran, bulgur, couscous, durum, einkorn, emmer, farina, farro, graham, Kamut, malt, rye, semolina, spelt, triticale and wheat.

what is gluten

What’s the difference between celiac and gluten sensitivity?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder which is an actual immune response to the consumption of gluten. When one has the celiac disease the ingestion of gluten results in the flattening of villi that line the small intestine. The villi in the small intestine are vital for nutrient absorption. A celiac individual is unable to absorb nutrients resulting in malnutrition, stunted growth, neurological or psychiatric illness. Celiac disease affects about 1% of the population. In order to screen for celiac disease, you must be consuming gluten. The blood test will check if there are IgA antibodies present. If the blood test suggests celiac disease, your medical doctor will confirm the diagnosis with a biopsy of the small intestine.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is not driven by an immune response to gluten consumption instead it is the rise of intestinal and non-intestinal symptoms after consuming gluten. Symptoms range from bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, headache, anxiety, brain fog, limb numbness and depression. Such symptoms rapidly improve after the withdrawal of gluten from the diet. There is some overlap between NCGS and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This overlap is credited to the molecules found in wheat that may also be involved in the NCGS symptoms. Some researchers have indicated that fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs) are possible factors for causing gastrointestinal symptoms.

I constantly have people tell me that life without bread and pasta would not be complete. Or that the gluten sensitivity craze is a myth. Any symptom you experience after eating gluten (or any food, really) should not be negated; whether it is brain fog, fatigue or digestive issues. Yes, humans have been consuming wheat for 1000’s of years but it hasn’t always been the same wheat that we see today. Hybridization and genetic engineering of wheat have produced our current species of wheat that have allowed for increased yield by withstanding drought and pests, shortening growing periods and allowing for easier harvesting capabilities. It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? The downside is that we have created a species that is dramatically different from what our grandparents consumed. There was no testing completed to see how this hybridized grain would affect human health. It was assumed that we would not have any difficulties consuming the foreign grain and that altering the genetic makeup would not disrupt the expression of other genetic characteristics.

Many people have intolerances to gluten that aren’t aware because they spend every day feeling sluggish, fatigued and with brain fog. How do you determine what the cause is when the feeling is constant? When we look at food sensitivities, digestive issues are only part of the picture. The number one allergenic symptom is actually fatigue, and symptoms may present up to 5 days after consuming the offending food. Which is why it can be so difficult to actually determine what is causing your reactions. I would suggest eliminating gluten from your diet for at least three weeks. After weeks you can try consuming one gluten-containing food and note any symptoms that result. You may also want to complete a food sensitivity blood test at a local naturopathic clinic.

With the rising awareness of gluten sensitivities, there are more gluten-free products on the market than ever before. Beware of foods that are gluten-free themselves but may encounter cross-contamination in processing facilities. Oats are a good example of being gluten-free but many oats on the market contain gluten. It’s important to note that JUST BECAUSE IT’S GLUTEN-FREE DOESN’T MEAN IT’S GOOD FOR YOU. Some gluten-free bread and pastries may spike blood sugar faster than its gluten-containing counterpart. It is important to still look for quality ingredients when buying gluten-free. The best approach is always whole foods.

Gluten-sensitive or not I encourage you to try these gluten-free biscuits (that are good for you)!

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Ciccocioppo, R., Sabatino, A. Di, and Corazza, G.R. The immune recognition of gluten in coeliac disease. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 2005; 140(3): 408-416.

Davis, William. Wheat Belly. HarperCollins. Toronto. 2011.

Demin, O.O., et al. Modeling of celiac disease immune response and the therapeutic effect of potential drugs. BMC Syst. Biol. 2013; 7: 56.

Elli, Luca, Roncoroni, Leda and Bardella, Maria Teresa. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: time for sifting the grain. World J. Gastroenterol. 2015; 21(27): 8221-8226.

Leonard, M.M., et al. Celiac disease and nonceliac gluten sensitivity. JAMA. 2017; 318(7): 647-656.

Molina-Infante, J., et al. Systematic review: noncoeliac gluten sensitivity. Aliment Pharmacol. Ther. 2015; 41(9): 807-820.

Perlmutter, David. Brain Maker. Little, Brown & Company. New York. 2015.

Perlmutter, David. Grain Brain. Little, Brown & Company. New York. 2013.

Silvester, J.A., et al. Is it gluten-free? Relationship between self-reported gluten-free diet adherence and knowledge of gluten content of foods. Nutrition. 2016; 32(7-8): 777-783.

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