Are you part of the one third of Americans who are trying to eliminate gluten from their diet?
Should you be?
The gluten-free diet is a very polarized topic.
There are experts who believe gluten is harmless (to everyone except those with Celiac Disease), and yet other experts believe gluten is the cause for any and ALL of our woes.
What IS gluten anyway?
Gluten is what gives bread and cake a doughy texture.
Gluten is the type of protein found in:
- any foods containing or contamined with the above grains. And there is a lot of them!
Typical foods that contain gluten (assuming traditional version, i.e. not a paleo one):
- anything else made with wheat flour
Gluten is also an ingredient in hundreds of foods such as:
- soy sauce
- granola bars
- packaged rice mixes
- store bought salad dressings and sauces
Experts do agree that gluten is harmful for those with Celiac Disease. This autoimmune disease affects 1% of the population. When someone with Celiac Disease ingests gluten, the immune system attacks its own intestinal wall, and that leads to a host of symptoms.
These can include gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, and pain, as well as other symptoms, such as anemia, headaches, fatigue, and seizures.
Even one molecule of gluten can cause a reaction in a person with Celiac, so the only treatment is a strict 100% gluten free diet ( such as paleo ) . The incidence of Celiac has increased 400% in the past 50 years!
Many people who test negative for Celiac still experience a whole array of symptoms when they eat gluten.
Up until 2011, doctors thought that these people were imagining this association. But more of this intolerance to gluten persisted, and now there is a name for it: Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity.
There isn’t the same scale immune response or intestinal damage as with Celiac, but people with Non-Celiac gluten sensitivity still experience gastrointestinal symptoms, (more bloating!), and as well as other symptoms ( we’ve all experienced brain fog , right? )
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity is estimated to affect 6% of the population.
The criteria are:
- negative blood test and negative biopsies for Celiac
- symptoms improve upon removal of gluten from the diet
- recurrence of symptoms when gluten is reintroduced
- no other explanation for the symptoms
The best way to figure out if you are gluten intolerant is to . All the while, keeping a detailed record of your symptoms.
The other factors at play
that claimed to prove that gluten sensitivity does not exist. One group of subjects was given a gluten-free diet, and the other had a control diet, but subjects were not aware of which diet they were eating (to prevent bias).
There was no difference in the symptoms of the subjects on the different diets. In other words, people who reported gluten sensitivity experienced the gastrointestinal symptoms whether they were on a regular control diet or the non-gluten diet.
The only diet that helped was a low FODMAP diet. FODMAPs are fermentable carbohydrates that the bacteria in our gut eat and then ferment. This leads to gas and diarrhea and all those other lovely gastrointestinal symptoms. FODMAPs are found in a variety of foods, including wheat.
Does this study prove that gluten sensitivity does not exist? Maybe, maybe not. But it might suggest that, at least for some people with gastrointestinal symptoms, the problem is FODMAPs and not gluten.
Gluten exacerbates what ails you
The problem is that sometimes the symptoms of gluten sensitivity aren’t immediate or overt enough to cause you to connect the dots.
In other words, the bloating and diarrhea do not occur in some people. Some experience other symptoms as a result of gluten sensitivity, such as:
- brain fog
- skin rashes
- joint pain
Some other studies have also shown that gluten can contribute to or is associated with:
- most autoimmune diseases, including Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis
- neurological diseases, such as depression, ADHD, Autism, and Schizophrenia
- thyroid disorders
Symptoms such as these may not fit peoples’ expectations of what gluten sensitivity looks like. The damage might not be noticed until it’s built up over time. Some experts believe that reactions to gluten will manifest in the (genetic) weakest link of your body.
If you have an autoimmune disorder, or anything else on the above list, you might want to consider if gluten plays a role for you.
It would be a wise idea to cut it out of your diet for a few weeks ( ) and see if your symptoms improve. Even if you do not have symptoms upon consuming gluten, or any of the conditions listed above, you could still choose to remove it from your diet as a preventative measure.
Gluten is a hot topic these days. We need a lot more research before we know how harmful gluten is. The evidence we do have so far is concerning.
Leaky gut and gluten
When the junctions in this wall are working well, they only allow beneficial nutrients to enter and block the bad stuff from getting through. If your intestinal lining is compromised or weak, that can lead to holes or tears. This is known as intestinal permeability or leaky gut.
Some say that gluten does contribute to leaky gut, but the problem is much more complicated. Gut flora, the bacteria living in your gut, is now known to play a huge role in your health. If your gut flora gets out of balance, it can contribute to leaky gut.
But one thing that we do know for sure is: to heal and seal the gut, you have to cut out the gluten .
Don’t visit the ‘gluten-free’ aisle
The healthiest way to go gluten free is to replace gluten-containing foods with unprocessed whole foods.
To give up wheat bread just to replace it with ‘gluten free’ bread, is in effect to replace one form of processed starches and sugars with another.
While better than gluten, gluten-free processed carbohydrates can still contribute to GI symptoms, inflammation in your whole body , fatigue, and weight gain. Gluten-free products are full of processed ingredients and things we can’t pronounce.
The healthier goal is to adopt a whole food diet. That means foods with one ingredient, or as few as possible.
A mixed bag of issues
- Gluten sounds pretty scary
- Your gut flora are extremely significant in determining your health
- Sugar and processed foods cause inflammation, disease AND affect your gut flora for the worse
Sound complicated? Luckily there is one solution that covers all the bases.
Here’s the thing.
and cutting out processed foods solves all these problems.