Is A Gluten Free Diet For You? And What Exactly Is Gluten? Your Questions Answered

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What exactly is gluten?

“Gluten” has become a general term for a mixture of proteins found in several grains including wheat, rye, and barley. It literally means glue and is responsible for giving dough the elastic texture.

Why is gluten problematic for some people?  Why are we seeing an increase in gluten sensitivity?

Wheat was only introduced during the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago. Compare this to data that shows humans have been eating meats, vegetables, and fruits for the last million years and you can see 10,000 years is not a long time on the evolutionary timeline. Based on this theory it is possible many people have not developed the ability to digest wheat well and it acts like a toxin in the body causing inflammation, autoimmunity, and a variety of unpleasant symptoms. Research shows the number of people with gluten sensitivity is also steadily increasing which may be because we are no longer eating native wheat. In the U.S. all of our wheat has been genetically modified which could contribute to increased immune reactions to gluten/wheat.

 What are signs and symptoms of gluten sensitivity?

Signs and symptoms can vary and include diarrhea, bloating, gas, abdominal pain, mouth sores, headaches, joint pain, muscle pain, fatigue, skin rash, depression, irritability, anxiety,  infertility, constipation, vomiting, heartburn, acid reflux, weight gain or loss, tingling sensation, respiratory problems, autism, mood disorders, ADHD . . . any many more.

What products contain gluten?

The more obvious foods that contain gluten are those made from wheat, rye, and barley including bread, bagels, beer, cookies, cakes, crackers, pasta, pizza crust, pretzels, biscuits, cereal, communion wafers, donuts, muffins, cornbread, croutons, gravy, imitation seafood, licorice, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, stuffing, thickeners, cous cous, ready-made sausages, luncheon meats, baking powder, and hot dogs.  Foods made from oats may contain gluten if they are contaminated during the manufacturing process or are grown in the same fields as wheat, barley and rye. Some companies test and certify their oats are gluten free.

Which foods are gluten free?

Gluten free “grains” include amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum, teff, corn, and rice.  Unprocessed meat, fruits, vegetables, and legumes are naturally gluten free.

How do I determine if a product contains gluten by looking at the label?

Avoid anything with the word “wheat” including wheat germ, hydrolyzed wheat protein, and wheat starch.  Also avoid foods that contain “flour,” bulgur, semolina, spelt, durum, frumento, kamut, graham, einkorn, farina, couscous, seitan, matzoh, malt, malt flavoring, malt vinegar, cereal filler, cereal protein, food starch, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, bran,  caramel, citric acid, dextrin, natural flavoring, and cake flour.  Gluten may be found in rice milk and soy milk in the form of barley enzymes.  Wheat free does not mean gluten free because rye and barley also contain gluten.

Are Celiac Disease and gluten sensitivity the same thing?

Celiac Disease is an extreme form of gluten sensitivity but gluten sensitivity does not mean someone has Celiac Disease. Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease that occurs in the small intestine as a result of ingesting gluten. The body sees gluten as a dangerous invader and attacks it creating damage to the small intestine.  This damage prevents the absorption of nutrients.  Many nutrient deficiencies can result causing anemia, neurological problems, osteoporosis, or failure to thrive in children.  Celiac Disease is a lifelong disease that cannot be cured with gluten avoidance.  These individuals should remain on a gluten free diet permanently. Simple blood tests are the first step to diagnosing Celiac disease. If the tests suggest Celiac Disease then a biopsy of the small intestine is performed. A positive biopsy is considered diagnostic for Celiac.

Gluten sensitivity is not thought to involve the immune system in the same way as Celiac Disease.  The damage to the small intestine is usually not as severe. Lab tests and small intestine biopsy may not be positive in cases of gluten sensitivity. However, when gluten is removed from the diet a host of symptoms go away. In some cases avoiding gluten for 6-12 months may “cure” the gluten intolerance and people can reintroduce gluten safely back into their diet.  In other situations a permanent gluten free diet is best.

Should I eat a gluten free diet?

If you have any of the signs or symptoms listed above for gluten sensitivity or an autoimmune condition it would be useful to see if you feel better after cutting gluten out of your diet. Keep in mind some people notice a change immediately while others don’t notice a difference until they have stopped eating gluten for several weeks. Even if you are not sensitive to gluten you may feel better by eliminating or reducing foods with gluten because this usually means a reduction in processed foods such as breads, donuts, cookies, crackers, cakes, and muffins.

If you decide to try a gluten free diet it is essential to plan ahead and have plenty of resources and support. Here is a list of books and websites with gluten free recipes and tons of information on making this change.  It is also useful to schedule an appointment with a health care practitioner who has expertise with gluten sensitivity and gluten free diets.

Resources and Support

·   Nourishing Meals: Healthy Gluten free Recipes for the Whole Family by Alissa Sebersten

·    Living Gluten Free for Dummies by Danna Korn

·    The Gluten Connection by Shari Lieberman

·    Gluten Free Baking Classics by Annalise Roberts

·    The Essential Gluten Free Restaurant Guide by Triumph Dining

·    Celiac Disease Foundation: www.celiac.org

·    Celiac Disease and Gluten-Free Forum: www.celiac.com

·    Gluten Intolerance Group: www.gluten.net

·    National Foundation for Celiac Awareness: www.celiaccentral.org

·    Karina’s Kitchen Blog: http://glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com/

·    Raising Our Celiac Kids: http://www.glutenfreedom.net/raising-our-celiac-kids.asp

·    Purchase Gluten Free Food: www.glutenfree.com

·    Gluten Free Mommy Blog: http://glutenfreemommy.com/

·    Gluten Free Girl and the Chef: www.glutenfreegirl.com

·    Good Without Gluten Blog: http://goodwithoutgluten.blogspot.com/

·    The Celiac Scene (Gluten Free Restaurant Guide): http://www.theceliacscene.com/

·    Elana’s Pantry: http://www.elanaspantry.com

 

July 29, 2013

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