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GLUTEN! A word spat from the mouths of those who are following the latest health trend of a gluten-free diet or have learned of gluten’s evils through various health problems.
What is gluten and should you be avoiding it?
Gluten is a type of protein found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley. It’s responsible for the sticky, elastic consistency you get when flour is mixed with water and kneaded to create that lovely chewy texture in bread.
Any product made with these grains therefore also contains gluten. These include bread, biscuits, cakes, pasta, cereals, beer and many others. Many processed foods also contain flours with the gluten protein present.
As gluten is not an essential nutrient, we are easily able to have a healthy, nutrient-rich diet without it. There is a wide variety of gluten-free products now available at our local supermarkets and health stores.
Eating a gluten-free diet has become trendy, and, in fact, many practitioners advocate it to avoid health problems that can arise from eating gluten-containing foods. But, as with most “diets,” gluten-free is not necessarily healthier.
The saying “if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…” works for gluten-free cookies and cakes. They are still cookies and cakes and contain the same, if not more, amounts of sugar than their already sugar-loaded, gluten-containing cousins. Also for your information, ducks don’t talk!
Should you be on a gluten-free diet? Is it just a fad? Let’s talk about who should avoid gluten, and the signs to look for that may point to insensitivity or intolerance. Then there are a few points to consider before jumping on the “gluten-free bandwagon.”
Who Should Avoid Gluten?
Some people are very sensitive to gluten and should avoid it altogether.
If you have celiac disease, avoiding gluten is crucial. Celiac disease is a medical condition that is diagnosable through tests prescribed by your doctor. Approximately 1% of adults have been diagnosed with celiac disease. However, it’s estimated that up to 80% of people who have the disease don’t realise it. Diagnosis of those in the dark would bump that figure up to 5% of all adults.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition. After eating even, a trace of gluten the immune system attacks it as a foreign invader resulting in inflammation and severe damage to the gut lining. Some of the digestive symptoms include bloating, diarrhoea, and constipation. Other symptoms of celiac disease include headache, fatigue, and skin rashes.
If you have celiac disease these effects can be serious and include:
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Nerve damage and,
Wheat Allergy Sufferers
A wheat allergy is like any other allergy when the body’s immune system reacts badly to something in the environment, in this case, wheat. To determine if you have a wheat allergy or sensitivity it is advisable that you see your doctor. It is important to note that not all foods that are gluten-free are also wheat free. For example, some foods listed as gluten-free may have undergone processing to remove the gluten protein but still contain wheat starch.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
This sensitivity occurs when people react to gluten, without celiac disease or wheat allergy. Close to 13% of people suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Just as foods that don’t contain gluten can still affect those with a wheat allergy foods that are labelled wheat-free can still affect those who follow a gluten-free diet. There are many other grains besides wheat that contain gluten protein such as rye and barley.
There are many common signs of gluten sensitivity. The problem is that they’re not very specific. They don’t necessarily occur immediately after eating it, and they’re not always located in the gut.
Symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity include:
- Digestive issues (bloating, flatulence, diarrhoea, and stomach pain)
- Skin issues (eczema and redness)
- Bone and joint pain
- Fatigue and chronic tiredness
- Other symptoms such as headaches and mood issues
Before Going Gluten-Free Remember
If you suspect you should avoid gluten, check with your doctor first. The tests for celiac disease are more accurate if you’re still eating gluten. You can also be tested for a wheat allergy or sensitivity.
Some gluten-containing foods contain nutrients that you should find elsewhere (not from those cookies, though):
Folate / Folic Acid / Vitamin B9
Many breads and cereals are fortified with this vitamin. To get it naturally, make sure you’re eating plenty of leafy greens. And if you’re planning to get, or are pregnant, talk to your healthcare professional about this critical nutrient.
Whole wheat is a major source of this all-too-important and often forgotten nutrient. High-fibre gluten-free foods include brown rice, quinoa, flax seeds, chia seeds, beans/legumes, and fruits and veggies. Including some of these in your diet is important for your gut health.
To determine if you are a celiac, have a wheat allergy or sensitivity or are intolerant to gluten it is advisable that you see your doctor. And if you’re going gluten-free, choose nutrient-dense whole foods. Not gluten-free processed junk foods to make sure you get all the nutrition you need.
Do you have a problem with gluten or wheat? Let us know about it.