Gluten Free--What's All the Hype?
You must be living under a rock if you haven’t heard someone talking about eating gluten free. Some people feel it is another fad diet while others may think there is a lot of validity to it. So I am here to clear this up for you!
First, it is important to understand what gluten is. Gluten is a protein that is found in certain grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. It is the ingredient that makes your favorite cookies, breads, cakes and other treats chewy. In a sense it is “glue”, holding everything together.
Now you might be wondering, “Why do so many people seem to be sensitive or allergic to gluten all of the sudden?” There is some truth to this statement, although it is not 100%. For starters, health care providers and nutritionists have gotten better at identifying the problem and have started to take a closer look at gluten and its affect on health. Just like anything else, early detection allows for proper prevention. Secondly, gluten has changed over time due to changes in agriculture. In fact, William Davis, MD states in his book, “Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight” that the original wheat consumed in Biblical times was genetically different than the wheat that is consumed today largely due to our modernization of crops that allows foods to grow quicker and bigger. In essence, due to genetic modifications, we may not really be eating wheat as nature intended, hence it may be contributing to a variety of health implications. Lastly, because of gluten’s “glue-like” properties, it is used in almost everything we come in contact with including foods, lotions, shampoo, make-up, and even stamps! As a result, indeed, more people are becoming sensitive or allergic to it because of the overconsumption and exposure to it.
You may also be wondering, “What health conditions or symptoms are associated to gluten intolerance or sensitivity?” Research has linked a variety of health concerns to gluten, the most commonly known is Celiac Disease. However, Celiac Disease only represents a small number of the people being affected by gluten. You can think of an iceberg, in which only 20% of the iceberg is visible and 80% is below the water. Celiac is the 20% and all of the remaining conditions or symptoms are the 80% lying beneath the water. Currently, the average time to diagnose Celiac Disease of between 7-11 years! This means that people are experiencing a variety of symptoms leading up to the destruction of the lining of the small intestine before a proper diagnosis can be given. It is estimated that about 30% of the population is currently gluten sensitive.
While there are more than 300 symptoms associated to gluten sensitivity/intolerances, here is a partial list:
IBS and IBD
CFS and Fibromyalgia
I often am asked the following questions, “What test should I have done to see if I have a sensitivity?” and “My Doctor told me I don’t have Celiac, so I can eat gluten, right?” So let me answer the first question. The easiest and most cost effective test is to simply eliminate ALL gluten products from your diet for 2 weeks and see how you feel. Did your symptoms clear up partially or completely? Do you feel better? If the answer is “yes”, then chances are you are sensitive, so it is best to avoid it. If you want concrete labs to tell you, your doctor may order an IgA antibody test. In my professional experience, by eliminating gluten products from your diet for 2 weeks, most people feel substantially improved and therefore come to a conclusion to simply stay away from it. To answer the second question, the good news is you don’t have Celiac Disease, the bad news is that you may be in that 7-11 year time frame in which it is simply not detected yet. I encourage people to tune into their body and see how they feel. Just because you “can” have gluten, doesn’t always mean you should. Try it…2 weeks is not a long period of time, especially if it means identifying something that can improve your health!
With all of the gluten free foods on the market today, be careful not to fall victim to the “gluten free spree”. Do not go out looking for every cookie, chip, bread, cake, etc. that is made with gluten free flours! Instead, focus on eating whole foods like fruits, vegetables, protein, nuts, healthy oils, and legumes. When choosing a grain, pick the whole grain such as brown rice, quinoa, millet or buckwheat (despite its name, this does not contain wheat) rather than choosing processed foods. I often tell my clients, “Just because it's gluten free, doesn’t mean it is good for you.” Each time I pass through the grocery store, there seems to be another processed, junk food made gluten free. So choose your foods wisely!