Should You Be Gluten Free?

Many people have digestive issues due to the ingestion of gluten as well as other foods. In the case of gluten, not everyone is sensitive to gluten, but many people are and don’t even know it. Symptoms can be very uncomfortable. Including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hives and rash, nasal congestion, eye irritation, and even difficulty breathing.

Wheat is one of the top eight food allergens in the United States. It is more common in children. Around 65% of children with a wheat allergy outgrow it by the age of 12.

Gluten intolerance, wheat allergy and celiac disease are all related categories of digestive and immune system disorders that have become increasingly familiar to anyone following modern trends in human health and dietary choices.

Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley as well as a few other grains.  Just a decade ago, gluten intolerance and celiac disease were considered uncommon problems inherited in our genetics, occurring in perhaps 1 in 2500 persons worldwide. A lengthy list can be found on the website for the Celiac Disease Foundation. You might be surprised to learn that gluten is even found in medications and the very glue on the envelope you might lick to seal it.

When one looks at what people ate million of years ago, until about 10,000 years ago, you will not find grains in the daily diet. It wasn’t until around 5,000-10,000 years ago that farming began, and humans began eating grains. Since that time, there has been a progressive increase in the consumption of grains and grain-based products. An increase in degenerative diseases are often the result when traditional diets are often the when traditional diets are replaced with diets high in processed foods, usually grain based.

How can this common food produce such a toxic effect on our digestion? It seems to be modern agriculture, world trade and industrialized methods of food production. As the demand increases more changed can take place.

Wheat and other related grains (including barley and rye and a few other grains), contain a mixture of two proteins glutenin and gliadin. These proteins found in the grains endosperm ( a type of tissue produced in seeds that are ground to make flour). Gluten both nourishes plant embryos during germination and later affects the elasticity of dough, which in turn affects the chewiness of baked products.

Gluten-free grains are sorghum, millet, brown rice, buckwheat, wild rice, amaranth, quinoa, corn (polenta) and teff. Oats are also gluten-free, but can be contaminated during processing. Gluten-containing foods also include wheat (einkorn, durum, farro, graham, Kamut, semolina, spelt, rye, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Malt products such as malt flavoring and malt vinegar (generally made from barley which contains gluten). Other foods to avoid include beers,ales, and lagers that are made from gluten-containing grains and commercial oats not specifically labeled gluten-free. Be aware that bouillon cubes, brown rice syrup, candy, cold cuts, hot dogs, salami and sausage, communion wafers, drugs and medications, supplements, gravy, licorice, matzo, modified food starch, pudding mixes, rice mixes, salad dressings, sauces, and many more. Check the list on the website for the Academy Nutrition and Dietetics.

When people develop digestive distress it can transform a gluten intolerance known as celiac disease, which affects one in every 141 people in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. When individuals with celiac disease eat grains with gluten it triggers an immune response that damages their intestines, preventing them from absorbing vital nutrients. This is a serious condition.

The chronic gastrointestinal disorder called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is another condition that is affected by gluten. IBS affects 7 to 20 percent of adults in the United States, according to a paper published  in the Journal Gastroenterology & Hepatology.  The author of that report explained that gluten grains are high in starches and sugars that can be easily fermented by intestinal bacteria. This can cause bloating, cramping and/or diarrhea.

Wheat allergy is a rare type of allergy that provides symptoms such a skin, respiratory or gastrointestinal reactions to wheat allergens, but is not necessarily caused by gluten.

Oats in their pure form can be tolerated by people with celiac disease. However, gluten can get into oats used in commercial food during growing, harvesting and processing. Bob’s Red Mill is a grain grower and manufacturer in Oregon. His site reports that their grains are all grown on separate fields. They are all transported in trucks that only contain the specific grain. They are transported to his specific facility that only manufactures gluten free grains. He has the most pure of all gluten-free flours and grains on the market.

Scientists have become aware of another potential of intolerance called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Patients with this condition may experience many celiac disease symptoms, such as diarrhea, fatigue and joint pain, but don’t appear to have damaged intestines. Patients should avoid eating any foods and ingredients that can contain gluten, including bread beer, French fries, pasta, salad dressing, soy sauce and even some soups. Unless these foods are labeled “gluten free.” Be aware that often times gluten-free foods can contain more fat and sugar to make these foods taste better. This increases the product’s calorie count.

When eating out in a restaurant or at social gathering be cautious. In the case of eating at a restaurants could provide egg dishes that are prepared on grills where pancakes or fried foods are cooked.  Fried items are often put in the same fryer as breaded items, or the same pot of water might be used to cook all of the pasta. It is important to ask about all of the preparation processes including the use of utensils. Are they using the same spoons and other utensils in all of the preparations? This creates cross-contamination.

The Mayo Clinic reports that 80%of people on gluten-free diets do not have celiac disease. Experts worry, that going on these diets without specifically needing to could be detrimental to a person’s health, as gluten-free foods are often nutrient-deficient. Always check food labels and ingredient lists.