Gluten free foods and diets took new proportions in the recent years. It’s almost unbelievable than just a few years ago, no one knew what gluten is, let alone considering avoiding it. But what’s all the hype about gluten-free diets? Are they really the golden promises they are advertised for?
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in some grains, including wheat, barley and rye. It’s what makes the dough stick together and give baked goods their unique texture. Basically, it’s what gives the bread it’s elasticity, allowing the dough to hold its shape, raise and create the structure in which air bubbles are trapped to form the bread texture we love so much.
In the beginning, gluten free diets have been designed for people suffering from celiac disease. Thought at first to be very rare, experts now came to the conclusion that celiac disease could affect about 1% of the American population. Celiac disease is a genuine health problem where the slightest amount of gluten triggers an immune reaction that ends-up damaging the gut mucosa, leading to more problems. What you have to understand is that the gut mucosa normally acts as a filter, letting the good stuff in and the bad stuff out. When the gut mucosa is attacked, the filter can let pass food bits, bacteria and other foreign substances into the bloodstream. This can cause a lot of long-term damage, from inability to absorb nutrients to various autoimmune diseases. This is also one of the best ways to suffer from toxic overload.
However, you could benefit from going gluten-free even if you’re not diagnosed with the celiac disease. Experts now acknowledge that around 20 millions Americans suffer from a nonceliac gluten sensitivity. This gluten sensitivity can show similar symptoms than classic celiac disease, but without damaging the gut mucosa the way celiac disease do. People suffering from gluten sensitivity usually suffer from digestive stress such as cramps, diarrhea, constipation and bloating.
Symptoms of gluten sensitivity
- Chronic diarrhea, constipation, or an alternation of the two
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Hidden allergy symptoms such as edema, headaches or joint pain
If you suspect a gluten sensitivity, the first thing to do is to talk about it with a health professional. Don’t give-up gluten before having been screened for celiac disease though, as the results might come out falsely negative. You must know that a gluten-free diet can be quite difficult to follow. It’s much more than just giving up bread and pasta. Wheat products are almost everywhere in packaged foods, used as a thickener in soups, sauces and dressings, to add flavor in spices mixes (malt products), and is used in other foods like soy sauce and beer. Also, many ready-made gluten-free food alternatives compensate the lack of texture with fat and sugar. If you must follow a gluten-free diet, check your vitamin B, iron and fiber levels carefully. It’s always best to focus on fresh whole foods instead of packaged ones.
That being said, many people experience tremendous health benefits from a gluten free diet. Aside from the relief of the gluten-sensitivity symptoms, going gluten-free usually prevent you from eating too many processed foods while replacing wheat products by healthier whole grains, legumes and vegetables.