What’s Gluten & Who Should Avoid It?

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Today the word gluten is BUZZING. Gluten free (GF) is often equated to healthy living, and is largely trending in the market place. So what is it, and why are so many people avoiding it?

Gluten refers to the proteins glutenin and gliadin found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, and other forms, such as triticale and einkorn. It is responsible for giving baked goods a doughy and elastic structure, and is commonly used as a thickening agent and flavor enhancer. The name GLUten, not coincidentally, refers to its glue-like properties.

An awareness of the negative effects of gluten is spreading and more people are realizing that it could be the culprit of their ongoing issues. When gluten hits the digestive tract and is exposed to the cells, it is commonly mistaken as a foreign invader.

Celiac disease (CD) is an autoimmune disease that effects about 1% of the population. It causes the most severe gluten reaction, with symptoms including gastrointestinal disrupt, rapid and unexplained weight loss, anemia, dental and bone disorders, mouth sores, skin rashes, and tingling in the hands and feet.

When people with CD consume gluten, an immune response is triggered and initiates an attack on the intestines. Over time, the villi of the intestines become damaged, making it impossible for the body to absorb nutrients. Consequently, this leads to malnourishment and the development of many other chronic illnesses.

People with CD should never eat gluten. If you’re concerned that you may have CD, a blood test can be done to reveal antibodies, and an autopsy can show the intestinal damage for a diagnosis. It is important to note that you must be currently eating gluten for these tests to be accurate.

Having a wheat allergy is another reason why people could be having adverse reactions after consuming gluten, as wheat is the most commonly used grain. If an allergy is present, the immune system triggers an IgE mediated response. Symptoms will most likely be immediate, and can include swelling, itching, hives, watery eyes, difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis.

Another category of people who should avoid gluten are those with Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). They can experience many of the same symptoms as a person with CD, except their intestines stay in tact and their body doesn’t produce the antibodies to gluten. About 40% of the population carries the gene for NCGS, but not all develop a sensitivity.  Currently, there is not a sure way to test for this, but the best way to find out if you’re effected is to try an elimination diet. 

As you can see, diagnosis can be difficult, but if you’re suspicious, I highly recommend experimenting with a GF lifestyle. While 10 years ago GF living was close to impossible, GF options are now widely available in mainstream grocery stores nationwide.

One thing I want to highlight is that while GF options are now available for almost everything, it is important to focus mainly on food sources that are whole, unprocessed, and naturally gluten free. This includes grains and flours such as millet, teff, amaranth, rice varieties, quinoa, buckwheat, sorghum, certified GF oats, corn, nuts, and beans. *Oats are naturally gluten free, but you must shop for oats specifically labeled gluten free because gluten is often added to commercial oats as a binding and flavoring agent.

Like any changes in life, dietary changes can be stressful and challenging. Try to be patient with yourself and take it one day at a time. Remember, sometimes it’s our greatest challenges that make us shine the brightest!

Please share this with someone you love, and do something kind for yourself today.

With Love & Gratitude, 

Brittany