By now, probably majority of the people have their own opinion about gluten. A few minutes on Google, and voila - they become experts. What I could notice is that in reality, people don't know that much.
Are you in doubt about gluten, wondering whether it's safe for you to consume it, or should you maybe start avoiding it? Do you think that you're going to solve all of your health issues by removing gluten from your diet? The noise is real, and thus, let me give you some scientific, but easy to understand hints on what is real and what is not so practical about gluten.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye, barely. Gluten consists of gliadin and glutenin (which gives polymeric structure to make a workable dough). In the human body, gliadin brakes to peptides which bind to the human brain and act like opiates.
Some of those opiates have various effects. For example, if you’re susceptible to multiple things - autism, ADD, binge eating, bipolar, depression - it could provoke those conditions. For regular consumers, it stimulates appetite on average for 400 more calories per day.
If undigested, proteins in grains can cause intestinal permeability, better known as the leaky gut syndrome.
There has been noted a 4x increase in the Celiac disease since the 1950s. It doubled in the last 20 years. The problem with today's wheat is that it is not the same grain as we used to eat in the 60s. Chemical mutagenesis changed wheat both with x-rays, gamma rays, and other chemicals. One of the changes introduced to wheat was a gene called Glia-alpha 9, which is a gliadin protein in gluten. Your mom might tolerate warm loaves of bread and butter when she was your age, but you might experience an utterly different reaction to it.
There are three categories of the disorders caused by gluten:
1. Autoimmune - body is attacking itself in the presence of gluten (celiac disease)
2. Allergic - the immune system is attacking the allergen (undigested gluten particles)
3. Gluten sensitivity - it’s still a mystery, as it doesn’t have autoimmune nature, nor it’s allergic, but somehow it affects the body.
How do they manifest?
1. Celiac - more than 300 signs have been identified by now. It can be intestinal symptoms (gas, bloating), but many people get extraintestinal symptoms such as a foggy brain, slowness, achy joints, headaches, migraines, skin rashes. It’s systemic condition that affects the whole body.
2. Wheat allergy - itching, hives, swelling, loosing/shortening the breath.
3. Gluten sensitivity - symptoms might overlap the celiac, but the majority of the people get extraintestinal symptoms, rather than intestinal symptoms.
How to know where you stand?
There are pretty accurate testing for Celiac disease nowadays. It consists of several steps that physicians can do. Firstly, a person needs to have symptoms compatible with Celiac disease. Then physicians perform serological screening, genetic testing from saliva and biopsy of small intestines. To get accurate results, a person must eat gluten before testing.
In case that tests confirm that you don’t have celiac or wheat allergy, you can try an elimination diet. There are many options for this, and I always suggest that you liaise with professionals that have experience in doing this.
Who's eating GF nowadays?
Gluten-free eating has become a huge trend. Many people consider this to be a healthier way of living. A fair share of the population believes that it’s a weight loss diet. The celiac disease community has driven the trend. Then the other diet trends such as low carb, paleo, raw have made their contribution as well. Hello-effect is also significant (I'm doing what my neighbor is doing) which leave us in ignorance, and uncertain of the reason why we do what we do.
Gluten-free choices are not necessarily healthier options.
Learn how to read labels beyond GF claim. Many products contain ingredients that are detrimental to human bodies even though they have the gluten-free claim on the packaging. Some of them such as tapioca starch, rice flour, cornstarch or potato flour can raise blood sugar even higher than wheat.
What if you have issues with gluten?
Don’t be scared. You are lucky that your body is sending you clear signals. Embark on the journey of healing and focus on repairing your gut lining. Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating vegetables, fruits, lean meats. Supplement in agreement with your naturopathic or functional medicine doctor. There are whole grains that are gluten-free such as oats, brown and wild rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, corn, amaranth. You can also use nuts, seeds and nut flours for baking.
The most significant challenge is changing your eating habits. It can take a lot of your mental energy. I wholeheartedly suggest that you find someone to support you on this journey. It will be much more pleasant and way too less stressful.
Put your heart and soul into it and choose the best options for yourself. Give the most significant gift to yourself and learn how to simplify your life and take the outstanding care of yourself.
Remember, Do Simple Better!
Choose wisely as your lifestyle becomes the set of your daily choices.