The Case for Saying Goodbye to Gluten

What is gluten, anyway? And what are the benefits of going gluten-free?

By Debra K | Posted September 23, 2013 | Originally posted on SpryLiving.com

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The following article was contributed by Guest Author Janelle Castle; naturopath, massage therapist, facial therapist and holistic skin care advisor.  Currently Janelle works at Amanpuri Resort in Thailand.

 What is gluten?

Gluten is a blanket term that refers to the storage proteins contained in common grains like wheat, oats, rye, and barley. The proteins are a natural part of these grains and are what nourishes the plant during germination. Protein makes things grow.

The content of gluten in a grain and the resulting flour when processed is what gives elasticity, shape and texture to breads, cakes, pizza bases and the like. When yeast is incorporated in the making of these doughy substances, the resulting fermentation process produces carbon dioxide bubbles and the sticky network of proteins (glutens) trap the bubbles and help the dough to rise. Gluten is indeed a wonderful thing, at least as far as baking is concerned.

What are the main foods and products that contain gluten?

The main food group that contains gluten is the “breads and cereals” section of the food pyramid. However, a very high percentage of packaged and processed foods also contain gluten in varying amounts. Common foods such as pizza, pasta, breads, crackers, pastries, cakes and biscuits, sausages and other processed and sliced meats, soy sauce, salad dressings, gravies, soups, ready-made meals and fast foods, beer, ice creams, sweet and savory pie fillings…and the list goes on! Gluten can also be hidden in ingredients such as “hydrolyzed vegetable protein,” “textured vegetable protein,” stock cubes or powders and other dried seasonings and flavor enhancers; in processed meats, flavored potato crisps, spice mixes, flavored chocolates and sweets. It is often used as filler or to increase the protein content of otherwise low protein foods. This hidden gluten is not always disclosed in the ingredient list of the product; you may be consuming gluten right now and not know it.

What is gluten sensitivity and what are the typical symptoms?

Gluten sensitivity is a reaction to gluten; it is not a true wheat allergy, nor is it Celiac disease.

There are varying levels of severity of gluten sensitivity, with Celiac disease having the most intense symptoms—an allergic reaction to the protein gliadin found in wheat as well as similar proteins found in other common grains.

Gluten sensitivity, especially if left undiagnosed, creates inflammation which settles in the weakest areas of the individual’s body. For example, if the inflammation develops in the joints, it is referred to as arthritis. If inflammation settles in the colon, a diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease may be given. Inflammation in the arteries results in high cholesterol levels. Therefore, the issue of gluten sensitivity shouldn’t be taken lightly. Scientists estimate that 99% of the population who are sensitive to gluten are unaware of it.

Symptoms of gluten sensitivity can include gastrointestinal discomfort such as bloating, diarrhea, flatulence at an abnormal level, constipation, intestinal pain, unexplainable weight gain or weight loss, tooth decay and poor gum health, infertility, miscarriage and irregular menstrual cycle, headaches and migraines, depression, aching joints, irritability, mood swings, frequent nausea and sinus congestion. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and the intensity of the symptoms can be low grade over a long period of time or a daily nuisance depending on the individual and amount of gluten ingested.

Due to the ongoing inflammatory response caused by undiagnosed gluten sensitivity, it may be a contributing factor or sole cause of many common disease states such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, anemia, fibromyalgia, thyroid diseases, diabetes, asthma, cancers, neurological problems such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, nerve damage, epilepsy, autism, general poor health, failure to thrive or gain weight and ongoing gastrointestinal distress.

How do I know if I am gluten sensitive?

Firstly, it’s very important that you rule out if you have Celiac disease – an allergy to glutens. Dr. Alessio Fasano, who is considered a worldwide authority on the topic of gluten, recommends that patients ask their doctor for a blood test for Celiac disease as a starting point. If this test returns negative results, he suggests asking for a standard allergy test to wheat. If both of these test results are negative, Dr Fasano recommends going on a gluten-free diet to see if your symptoms disappear. If this relieves the symptoms, Dr Fasano believes this is the best test for gluten sensitivity at this point in time.

What should I do if I am gluten sensitive?

Strictly avoid all gluten-containing products. It takes around 6 months of avoidance for your immune system to re-set itself, so bear this in mind if you’re thinking that avoiding gluten for 1 or 2 weeks will resolve the issue completely.

Become a sleuth in the supermarket. Read labels on everything you pick up before it goes in your basket. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. For example, if you’re buying sausages at the butcher’s, ask if they are gluten-free. If the staff isn’t sure, ask for an ingredients list. Gluten or wheat flour is a common filler in sausages, hamburger patties and most meats coated with a seasoning or marinade. Store owners and shop assistants are usually more than happy to help you search for the information you need.

Try to avoid the trap of buying packaged gluten-free goodies in the shops like biscuits, cakes, breads and crackers. They are often full of starch, sugar, hydrogenated oils, margarine and other health-destroying ingredients. Occasionally they are OK, but don’t make them a staple in your diet!

What are good alternatives to products with gluten?

For a start, focus on what you can eat, rather than what you feel you’re missing out on.  Luckily, there is an abundance of naturally gluten-free foods available. Give supermarkets the cold-shoulder and head to your local markets for fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, shellfish, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and any gluten free grains you can find e.g. rice (Jasmine, black, red, wild etc.), quinoa, corn, buckwheat, millet, amaranth…what a feast! With all of these naturally gluten free foods available to fill up on, you’ll hardly have room for anything else. Baking can become a whole new science as you experiment with different flours, such as buckwheat, quinoa, coconut and rice flour and become accustomed to their different textures, flavor nuances and the way they perform compared to wheat flour.

Dairy products are largely gluten-free (check all ingredients lists, especially ice cream) but keep in mind that many gluten-sensitive individuals are also dairy sensitive; you want to avoid any other foods which elicit a sensitivity reaction or it will be impossible to resolve the heightened immune and inflammatory reactions that are happening in your body.

To avoid getting stuck for gluten free food to eat while at work, be proactive and prepare some food the night before. Make a shopping list for the week and loosely prepare in your mind some options for breakfast, lunch and dinner and purchase items accordingly. Make larger batches of meals such as hearty soups to re-heat if you come home from work later at night so you don’t get tempted to order in pizza. Take some ingredients to work such as rice cakes, tins of tuna, avocados, tomatoes, a bag of fresh leafy greens and you can put together a quick lunch or snack yourself.

It is estimated that 99% of the population who are sensitive to gluten are unaware of it. Most suffer in silence and consider their often uncomfortable symptoms to be normal for them. Get it checked out! As researchers have proven, undiagnosed gluten sensitivity greatly reduces the quality and quantity of your life.

Join the movement to address our nation’s top health concerns…naturally

 

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