Do You Need to Avoid Gluten? Probably Not.
Like fat in the 1990s, gluten has become the latest offender in our diets, with many people believing that gluten consumption is the source of any digestive issues and the reason they can’t lose weight. But is gluten sensitivity as widespread as we think it is? And is it something we should all avoid?
Today, we’ll be talking about gluten and how it affects people with Celiac Disease and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity.
What is gluten?
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, gluten is “a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale—a cross between wheat and rye.” These proteins act as a “glue” that helps foods maintain their structure. In addition to obvious sources like breads, pastas, and beer, gluten is also found in unexpected places like fried foods and salad dressings.
Someone who is adhering to a gluten-free diet must also pay attention to cross-contamination of utensils, cooking surfaces, and containers. For those who have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, food must be prepared completely separate from anything that could come into contact with gluten.
So, what is Celiac Disease exactly?
Celiac Disease (CD) is an autoimmune disorder that involves a reaction to gluten. It is genetic and can be activated by stress, viral infections, or other triggers. While some people with CD experience no symptoms at all, others will experience one of over 200 symptoms, the most common of which include digestive issues, fatigue, weight loss, or anemia.
While many people may believe they have CD, the only way to determine if a person is affected by the disease is through a blood test followed by a small intestine biopsy. It’s estimated that 1% of the population is affected by CD, with around 83% of those cases going undiagnosed. At this time, the only treatment for CD is to avoid the consumption of gluten.
Is it possible to have a gluten intolerance without having Celiac Disease?
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS), also referred to as gluten sensitivity, is diagnosed when a person does not have the CD marker in their blood and does not appear to have a wheat allergy, but still exhibits symptoms of CD. If a gluten-free diet eliminates symptoms, then it is believed that the patient has NCGS.
It’s believed that approximately 18 million Americans suffer from NCGS, but new research indicates that gluten may not be the culprit for many of these people. Other factors, such as FODMAPs or how wheat has been modified over the years, may be the reason many people exhibit CD-like symptoms (more on that in a later post).
How do I know if I have Celiac Disease or NCGS?
If you believe you’re sensitive to gluten or have CD, the only way to know for sure is to visit your doctor. He or she will be able to run the appropriate tests and provide the correct diagnosis.
Gluten has become a popular culprit in the diet world, but most of the time, it is safe for people to consume. The bigger issues are other sugars, chemicals, and other additives to our food. Some common additives include:
- Aspartame - linked to nerve damage and headaches
- Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) - oil with added bromine, a chemical used as a flame retardant and considered toxic to humans
- Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) - also used in deodorants, cosmetics, and embalming fluid
- Carrageenan gum - can cause gut inflammation
- High fructose corn syrup - easily converted into fat
- Rice syrup - used as a substitute for high fructose corn syrup
- Saccharin - can cause headaches, insulin increases, and has been linked to cancer
Aren’t we all better off if we avoid gluten?
A gluten-free diet has become more popular in the last few years, with many people believing that everyone is sensitive to gluten in some form. And because many people associate being gluten-free with a low carb diet, the belief that a gluten-free diet is healthier has also become more common.
However, this is not the case. In a recent Italian study, patients who believed they were sensitive to gluten followed a gluten-free diet for six months and were then asked to reintroduce gluten into their diet. It was revealed that 93% of the patients in the study could tolerate gluten without any negative effects.
A gluten-free diet is not always the healthier choice, and it is not recommended for weight loss. In fact, Consumer Reports found that many gluten-free products are higher in calories and sugar content, which can lead to weight gain.
If you haven’t been diagnosed with CD or NCGS, you should be able to consume gluten without any adverse effects. We’ll be addressing more gluten-related topics in our blog, so stay tuned!