These days, “gluten-free” products are found in nearly every supermarket and bakery. Is going gluten-free just one of the latest fads in wellness, or is it worth considering?
Gluten is the Latin name for glue, a type of protein found in wheat, barley, burghul, rye, semolina, and other cereal grains. Proteins, gliadin, and glutenin glue the dough together, provide elasticity, help it to rise and maintain its shape, and give the final product a chewy texture. Common food products that contain gluten include cereal, pasta, and pizza. When you bite into a fluffy muffin, you have gluten to thank for its chewy, elastic texture.
In recent years, gluten sensitivity appears to be on the rise and has received a ton of attention, both from scientists and the public. While the scientific community continues their efforts to definitively identify the specific causes of the increase in peoples’ difficulty in digesting gluten, one reason may be that modern wheat is often no longer being grown and processed
according to ancient traditions. Chemical and genetic technologies now protect grain against pests and droughts and increase a harvest’s yield. So wheat varieties were bred to be stronger, which also meant stronger glutens
Gluten is also commonly used as a binder and texture stabilizer in many foods where you probably would not expect to find it – think of salad dressings and catchup, for example. It may be that gluten in this isolated form makes it difficult for the body to digest.
Another theory being studied is that patients are actually reacting to an excess of poorly absorbed carbohydrates present in wheat and many other foods. Those carbohydrates—called FODMAPs, can cause bloating when they ferment in the gut.
Although most people tolerate gluten just fine, it can cause problems for people who have celiac disease, wheat allergy, gluten sensitivity, and a few other health conditions.
Symptoms of gluten intolerance:
- Abdominal bloating
- Intestinal pain
- Skin issues
As our gut is “our second brain”, the symptoms of gluten intolerance can also include:
- Brain fog
Although there is no evidence that everyone should avoid gluten, and there is definitely a “fad component” to the gluten-free trend, many medical doctors – including leading gastroenterologists – and scientists are convinced that gluten sensitivity is real.
What can you do?
One way to find out if you are sensitive to gluten is to eliminate all gluten from your diet for a few weeks to see if you feel better. A naturopath or nutritionist can help create an eating plan. Many healthy foods are naturally gluten-free, including fruits, legumes, vegetables, fish, fresh meat, and poultry, and oils. You can then test the efficacy of your diet by reintroducing gluten back into your diet to see if your symptoms come back.
You will need to read food labels – gluten Is sometimes added to foods that you would not expect and “gluten-free” processed foods often contain higher levels of fat and sugar.
Keeping track of what you eat and how you feel afterward in a food diary is one way that can help you manage the condition.
If you think you react negatively to gluten, consult with your doctor to rule out celiac, or any other, disease. Today, no reliable lab test to diagnose gluten sensitivity exists, and a diagnosis is usually made by excluding other health conditions.
By, Maya Abboud, Naturopath/Health Practitioner
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