So what is gluten anyway?
Simply put, gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, and wheat which doesn’t get fully digested when consumed. In addition, eating well.com describes it as, “a protein actually comprised of about 70 different gluten and gliadin proteins which stretch and trap gas as dough rises, creating airy bread.”
Furthermore, gluten can predominantly be found in wheat, as well as beer, bread, pasta, and processed foods. As for wheat products, they’re everywhere and encompass 1/5 of the food consumed across the globe. However, wheat is not a ‘must have’ nutrient for our bodies nor a necessity for healthy living.
With this being said, the frightening part about gluten is that its undigested particles can go adrift and cross the intestinal boundaries. Consequently, when you are someone suffering from celiac disease, these protein particles can trigger an immune reaction that ‘wrecks’ the intestines. As this wreckage is occurring, the individual may experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain or diarrhea or non-gastrointestinal such as lethargy, headaches, or arthritic pain.
The trend to go gluten-free
Unfortunately, many people who’ve chosen to adapt a gluten-free diet do not even know what gluten is. As eating well.com noted, “Jimmy Kimmel even poked fun at this trend on late-night TV, asking people on the street who were gluten-free if they actually knew what gluten was. No-one could answer the question.”
In addition, many stars and well-known athletes have publicly opted to give up gluten not because of underlying health conditions, but rather to drop some weight and enhance their athletic stamina. Not to mention, one out of three Americans now want to cut down on their gluten consumption because it’s deemed “healthier.” Lastly, the proof of this gluten-free transformation is demonstrated in the jump from 1.6 million people in 2010 who were gluten free by choice (not necessarily because of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity) to 5 million in 2014.
In conclusion, the gluten-free trend could possibly be more about personal choice and opinions regarding healthier lifestyles rather than complying with strict doctor’s orders to stay away from it.
Is self-diagnosis always the best choice?
Due to the complex nature of diagnosing celiac disease (blood tests followed by biopsy), many people resort to taking matters into their own hands without definitive diagnosis. They simply make a conscious decision to completely remove gluten from their diets. Although eliminating gluten from your diet may alleviate symptoms that mimick celiac disease, it’s not always the best choice in terms of hereditary factors affecting future generations and long-term ramifications.
As stated by Maureen Leonard, M.D, clinical director of the Center for Celiac Research & Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital, “First-degree family members have a 5 to 20 percent higher risk of developing a gluten disorder compared to the general population. Plus, celiac patients themselves may have an increased risk of developing other autoimmune conditions, such as type 1 diabetes, thyroiditis, or inflammatory bowel disorder.” Therefore if you suspect you have celiac disease, it may be best to get an official diagnosis and confirmation from a medical professional.
Out of the U.S. population, 6% (approx. 18 million) have a sensitivity to gluten and 1% are confirmed to have celiac disease. Unfortunately, these conditions can’t be cured by simply taking a pill, but rather require complete elimination of gluten.
When you have gluten sensitivity, it’s as if your immune system flounders when attempting to go after a foreign invader (gluten). In turn, your immune system initiates an inflammatory response which if you’ve ever experienced, can be quite painful.
In contrast, having celiac disease means that the immune system is more aggressive with its attack on gluten. However, your immune response does not discriminate to just attack the gluten and actually hits the cells in the intestinal wall. As these cells are hit, their ability to absorb valuable nutrients is compromised causing more damage.
The unfortunate part of diagnosing gluten sensitivity is that it’s a guessing game since you can’t merely administer a blood test to get confirmation. Therefore, a close examination of symptoms after eating certain foods is required. So, if removal of gluten from your diet helps relieve those symptoms, it’s advised to convert to being gluten-free.
If I haven’t noticed any gluten sensitivity, should I still refrain from eating gluten?
Recently, the word ‘gluten’ has received some really bad publicity on health forums, talk shows, etc. However, you don’t have to jump on the band wagon if eating gluten doesn’t directly affect you.
In fact, gluten isn’t necessarily something everyone should avoid. Furthermore, according to webMD, “researchers noted that many symptoms attributed to gluten may actually be caused by sensitivity to other components of wheat flour or other ingredients found in wheat-based foods like bread, pasta, and breakfast cereals.” So maybe gluten isn’t always the culprit?
In addition, when you are predominantly on a gluten-free diet, it’s more likely that excessive fat will be consumed in lieu of gluten and you will have a fiber insufficiency. With that being said, if you’re questioning whether you should stay away from gluten without having any sensitivities, consider high-fiber foods over wheat since they have more nutritional value. Some examples of these types of high-fiber foods include whole grains such as barley, brown rice, quinoa, rye, and wild rice.
In conclusion, choosing to implement a gluten-free lifestyle is a personal decision and you know your body better than anyone else. Both celiac disease and gluten-sensitivity are immune responses to the presence of gluten and cause debilitating symptoms. Therefore, do what’s best for you and I hope that I helped to educate you in the process.
So there you have a brief explanation on the gluten-free concept. Here’s to living your best life ever! Feel free to leave me a comment or any insight you may have on the topic of going gluten-free.
Boyles, S. (2012). Gluten Sensitivity: Fact or Fad?. [online] WebMD. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20120220/gluten-sensitivity-fact-or-fad#1 [Accessed 15 Nov. 2017].
Fromartz, S. (2015). Unraveling the Gluten-Free Trend. [online] EatingWell. Available at: http://www.eatingwell.com/article/285160/unraveling-the-gluten-free-trend/ [Accessed 15 Nov. 2017].
Young, M. (2017). Is Eating Gluten-Free Healthier?. [online] EatingWell. Available at: http://www.eatingwell.com/article/9943/is-eating-gluten-free-healthier/ [Accessed 15 Nov. 2017].