What is Gluten?
Gluten is a naturally occurring protein found in many grains such as wheat, barley, kamut, spelt and rye, It’s the protein that holds the ingredients in breads and baked goods together and is used as a binder in many processed foods. It makes the fluffy or chewy texture of baked goods.
Why is Gluten Given a Bad Name?
Gluten can be very difficult for our bodies to break down. It sits in our digestive tract, rotting and fermenting, causing bloating, cramps and gas. It also blocks the ability of nutrients to be absorbed and causes protective mucus to be formed in the digestive tract . Think about what happens when you mix flour & water together to make paper mache. This is essentially what happens in your stomach and digestive track making it more difficult for nutrients to be absorbed into your blood stream.
Gluten causes inflammation in the small intestine for people who are allergic or sensitive to the protein. Many go untreated, assuming the symptoms are normal occurrences with food in their life.
Symptoms caused or worsened by gluten intolerance:
- Runny nose
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Watery eyes
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Excess mucus
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Skin Irritations
- Mental Fog
- Fatigue and many more….
Gluten is also very addictive because wheat is high in sugar causing the rapid insulin rise in your bloodstream followed by the crash. This means that the more gluten you eat the more you will want leading to an addiction of sorts! Not only does the gluten containing grain turn into sugar in our bodies, most commonly the item we choose has been made with refined sugars as well. Think about the foods you crave most. What are they made out of? If you answered muffins, toast, sandwiches, pasta or cookies, it may be as a result of a gluten addiction.
Should Everyone Go Gluten Free?
This is a hot topic in the nutrition world right now. Simply put, there is no hard and fast answer to that. If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, you will want to make every effort to avoid gluten. See below for more information. As a nutritionist, I believe that much of our diet relies heavily on gluten containing grains at the expense of more nutrient dense choices such as vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils and raw nuts and seeds. I think we would all be wise to pass on the muffin & eat some veggies & hummus instead. I do think that going gluten free for at least 4 weeks is a great opportunity to give your body a break and see how you feel. Many people report clearer thinking, more energy & less digestive issues while eating gluten free. You may not notice a difference at all. In this case, consuming gluten may be just fine for you.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a genetic disorder that makes the body intolerant to gluten. When someone with celiac disease eats gluten-containing foods, immune cells attack the gut lining, short term, this can cause symptoms like bloating, gas and diarrhea; in the long term, it can lead to malnutrition as the nutrients in the digested food are not being absorbed.
Research suggests that at least 1% of North Americans have celiac disease, with the majority going undiagnosed. It’s likely that an even greater number have gluten intolerance or sensitivity, a condition where gluten exposure produces similar short term symptoms but no intestinal damage.
Gluten allergies, sensitivities and intolerances are caused when large, undigested pieces of gluten push their way through the gut into the bloodstream. This is when the immune system goes into action causing inflammation, which can spread all over your body. This can also cause the immune defense in the body to be lowered contributing to further food sensitivities
Gluten is used as a binder in many processed foods so it can hide in products you wouldn’t normally consider, so if you are trying to avoid gluten, you really need to become a food detective. Contact me to arrange a 90 minute grocery tour where I can help you navigate the aisles and teach you the tricks to going gluten-free.
Stay tuned for part II of my blog next week, where I will be explaining why gluten sensitivity is so common, why you should consider removing it from your diet and how to be healthy & gluten-free. Just because something says it’s gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. Bottom line? Gluten-free cookies and cakes are still cookies and cakes!