It would seem that we see “GLUTEN FREE” labeling everywhere nowadays. I have seen even entire “Health Food” stores dedicated to Gluten free products. Why is Gluten all of a sudden so bad? Or is it? I have to admit I have fallen trap to the hype once or twice, Gluten Free chocolate chip cookies for sale in a reputable health food store, why not. They have to be good for me. Now it cost me the same price for 6 cookies, as it would have to purchase an entire box of 24 bakery style cookies. But I am worth it, right? Was that purchase a waste of my money? Where they really any healthier for me? To be honest before I did the research for this blog I knew very little about Gluten just that it is somehow associated to Celiac Disease and that it comes from wheat, so I thought. In this blog I will cover what is Gluten and where it comes from, how it is associated with Celiac Disease, and finally some of the traps to look out for when you read Gluten Free Labels.
Gluten as it turns out does come from wheat but not just wheat, all grains to be exact. In reality Gluten is a very general term used by us laypersons. Gluten is referred to by the scientists as Prolamines and Glutelins specifically when referring to wheat. Grains are the seeds of grass. The seed has a bran casing, a starchy endosperm which contains 90% of the protein (including gluten), and a small germ nucleus which is the plant embryo waiting to grow. Any flour made from the starchy endosperm contains prolamines and is potentially toxic to the grain sensitive/intolerant person. The three leading culprit grains are Wheat, Rye and Barley. Some would argue Oats belongs with those three as the worst of the triggers but in all my reading it would seem it is a 50/50 split on where Oats stand. As well be aware there are others like Milet, Corn, Rice and Sorgum but more research still needs to be done on these grains. As of now they do not seem to be the primary triggers of Gluten sensitivities but definitely worth considering as a trigger if the elimination of the top 3-4 do not stop your symptoms.
So we now know where Gluten comes from, but why avoid it? Well for some unfortunate people they are challenged with Gluten Allergies, Gluten Intolerance or Gluten Sensitivity. Because you might have one of the above mentioned you do not necessarily have Celiac Disease. However it has become very common place to lump all three together and having any reaction to Gluten being labeled as Celiac Disease. Be aware though, Gluten Sensitivities have been linked to over 200 other conditions such as Fibromylagia, Cancer (lymphoma), Rheumatoid Arthritis, Bone loss and Thyroid Disease just to name a few. When I read the list I started to think that maybe it was a good idea to buy those Gluten free cookies afterall. So I don’t have Celiac disease but maybe I do have an allergy, intolerance or sensitivity and it is slowly manifesting itself into one of those other 200 conditions?
First of all let’s identify the difference between celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Celiac disease is an immune reaction, a severe sudden onset allergic reaction, to the protein called gluten. While celiac disease is initially an auto-immune disorder, it is also a disease of mal absorption, because essential nutrients are not absorbed.
Gluten intolerance often has a slower onset than celiac disease, and may be hard to diagnose due to the broad range of symptoms and causes.
So what are the specific symptoms of gluten intolerance and celiac disease?
▪ Weight loss or weight gain
▪ Nutritional deficiencies due to mal absorption e.g. low iron levels
▪ Gastro-intestinal problems (bloating, pain, gas, constipation, diarrhea)
▪ Fat in the stools (due to poor digestion)
▪ Aching joints
▪ Head aches
▪ Irritability and behavioral changes
▪ Infertility, irregular menstrual cycle and miscarriage
▪ Cramps, tingling and numbness
▪ Slow infant and child growth
▪ Decline in dental health
I certainly am not qualified to make a scientific opinion but simply a somewhat informed point after many readings on the subject. In a need to produce the most at the lowest cost we have embraced our inner genius (so we think) and let scientists and big companies grow our foods instead of our farmers. Now it is clear that eating natural, wholesome, organic foods are significantly more expensive than the genetically modified, chemically enhanced, dyed wonders our best scientists are producing. Yet, you would think with all the man-hours going into producing the most efficient yielded crop it would be more expensive than the carrot in your back yard??
If you think you may have a gluten sensitivity and have decided to cut it out from your diet then be aware of the label liars! Remember when I stated there is Gluten in ALL grains. Oats is sitting on the fence with the top three but corn has as well been identified as an irritant. Corn has a lower percentage of the protein than wheat but if you eat an excess of it thinking it is substituting for a wheat cereal you may not be totally eliminating your irritants. So if you see a cereal box stating gluten free, that is impossible if it was made with a grain. It simply has a lower percentage, BUT that percentage might make a difference for some.
So should you decide to eat gluten-free? Of course eating gluten free makes sense for anyone with Celiac disease or a significant sensitivity to gluten. But for the majority of us who are not significantly bothered by gluten, are there real benefits to banning foods containing gluten altogether? That’s the question I continually find myself pondering. So I’ve decided that the only way to know is to try it. I am starting in the coming days to eliminate gluten and will follow a gluten-free nutrition program for 30 days. Fortunately, the nutritional program I follow does not contain any gluten, barley, or wheat, so much of the leg work has been done for me. I would love to hear your opinions and/or results in following a gluten-free diet. Please share some of the recipes, books, resources you’ve used that have helped you. I’m looking for some great recipes that will make this change fun, and exciting!! I promise to keep you posted on my results.