This post is a must read for anyone with gluten intolerances, has celiac disease or is interested simply in becoming a little more health conscious.
I have personally been aware of my gluten intolerance for a few years now. I suffered increases in the severity of my asthma, I felt sluggish and I was hyper-allergic amongst a plethora of other symptoms. As a qualified Exercise Physiologist, making the transition was not that difficult as I was fully aware of the foods I needed to be eating, I understand how to read food labels and simply being conscious of my diet was second nature. Thus, eating small quantities of Gluten had not created too much discomfort in my life at the time. Though I would have to admit that I never fully went ‘Gluten Free’, I removed most products but there were still some things in my diet that would aggravate my health. Little was I aware of what real problems I was still adding to my overall health and really to what extent gluten plays havoc on our bodies. As I will talk about later: you are either gluten free or you are not. It’s like saying you are a little bit pregnant; you are either pregnant or you are not!
Recently I moved to Canada on a short-term holiday/working sabbatical (I understand work and sabbatical together is somewhat of an oxymoron) and part due to laziness, finances and ignorance, my diet has not been as good as it needs be. I have found myself eating more bread, more sweets, more pasta and even cereal for breakfast [eek I never eat cereal]. Unfortunately, what has followed is a whole series of health problems, many that I was familiar with from before I recognized I was gluten intolerant but many others that I (now) know are linked to change in diet and the high incidence of wheat, spelt and rye etc. in my diet, which ultimately means a high proportion/occurrence of gluten.
My asthma has increased to a 7 out of 10 severity, I have felt like I have had a head cold for 2 months, I have been sluggish and low in energy. My asthma is producing a lot of mucous (not nice I know), I have not been as alert, felt bloated and had mild symptoms of reflux…my body was literally saying, “STOP”! So last night I went on a rampage of reading everything I could about Gluten; online journals and other sources. Plus I was fortunate to have a book with me that I had always intended to read – Primal Body, Primal Mind – Beyond the Paleo Diet for total health and a longer life. I encourage everyone reading this post to order a copy from Amazon immediately.
Gluten the name is derived from the Latin word for “Glue” is a substance found in numerous grains such as wheat, rye, barley and typically found in oats due to modern processing methods (1). Gluten is used in all of your breakfast cereals (don’t get me started on those), all breads all pastas and is used in most baking goods as gluten adds the fluffiness and chewiness to the food. Basically, unless it says Gluten Free then it has gluten in it. Gluten, from an evolutionary perspective is a very new inclusion to our diets and it is very difficult to digest. Ever since gluten has been recognized as having an influence on celiac disease [CD] there have been two epidemics or even pandemics, if we are to talk globally.
(1) The incidence of CD with accurate diagnosis and (2). The incidence of people going ‘gluten free’ just because it’s) in-vogue without any vague idea as to its importance or what it means. I hope to explain in this article that gluten is bad but I want to ensure I support this statement with evidence and show consideration for the fact that not everyone needs to be gluten free and that there are some negative aspects of having a gluten free diet.
How was gluten found?
Dutch researchers studying Celiac Disease discovered that its cause is a loss of tolerance to gluten peptides, which in turn affects the absorption of critical nutrients leading to other health problems (2). Gluten is a protein complex found in cereal grains. This has been great news for individuals diagnosed with CD,) as it has been proven) that a gluten free diet [GFD] is an effective treatment option and can result in these individuals living more comfortably with the disease).
Gluten sensitivity or intolerance
Since the recognition of Gluten and its influence on our health) we have been predominantly using Celiac Disease) as our compass for the affects gluten has on our bodies. The reality is that the diagnosis of CD reveals only a fraction of the issues gluten is creating. Gluten sensitivity or intolerance is a much bigger issue. Testing for CD it is most commonly done via a blood test, however this testing usually only looks for one version of the protein and if you happen to have sensitivity to one or more of the other 11 versions of the gluten (protein) then you will show a negative test to CD and no acknowledgement of your sensitivity. Celiac Disease is a form of gluten sensitivity but not all gluten sensitivity presents as Celiac Disease (1 & 3). Ensuring that you are tested for the full spectrum of gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance is vitally important. In Australia useful websites to checkout are: http://www.imupro.com.au/ , http://www.coeliac.org.au/gluten-sensitivity/ , http://www.allergy.org.au/ – In the US or North America visit: www.cyrexlabs.com , www.enterolab.com
What does gluten affect and how?
Gluten can affect your organ systems – brain, heart, kidneys, nervous system, digestive system, musculoskeletal system, immunological functioning and even your moods.
- Gastrointestinal symptoms e.g. diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, cramping, bloating, abdominal pain
- Fatigue, weakness and lethargy
- Iron deficiency anaemia and/or other vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Failure to thrive or delayed puberty in children
- Weight loss (although some people may gain weight)
- Bone and joint pains
- Recurrent mouth ulcers and/or swelling of mouth or tongue
- Altered mental alertness and irritability
- Skin rashes such as dermatitis herpetiformis
- Easy bruising of the skin
But wait there is more…
Recent research has shown that gluten also acts as a ‘gateway food’ (1 & 3); increasing the permeability of our intestinal wall, which allows other enzymes & proteins to enter our body that normally wouldn’t or shouldn’t. Basically this means gluten is one of the causes of other allergies and more severe autoimmune diseases that you may have. Consider gluten as the Granddaddy of all the potential causes. A study published in the Annals of New York Academy of Sciences showed that gluten increased the risk of autoimmune diseases and individuals with diabetes have an even higher risk of developing an autoimmune disease.
* Allow me to go on a tangent – Combine these latest findings from the article above with the fact that over 60% of Australians and North Americans are obese, with subsequent high rates of diabetes. Our lives are infiltrated with advertising that shapes what we eat. Large companies pay loads of money to put out press releases conveying the health benefits of their products. Consider Kellogg’s and cereal, for example. Education leads to making informed choices but obesity and poor food choices are highest amongst individuals of a low socio-economic status where the cost/pay-off on healthy food v a KFC food bucket, when you are down to your last $20, is not a difficult one. It is no wonder we have a society of health problems.
Healing yourself on a gluten free diet
Restoring the integrity of the intestines or the gut after gluten has wreaked havoc on them) is possible but not as simple as you would hope. A systematic, military style approach to removing gluten from your diet is critical. You should persist with strict Gluten elimination for a minimum period of) one year to fully reduce the inflammation and aggravating affects gluten has inflicted on your body. Plus, remember my comment from earlier; you need to be completely gluten free not just partly to heal yourself. The good news is that once you have removed gluten from your diet you may also notice other allergies or sensitivities disappear and of course the related health problems I have listed in this article. Also consider speaking to a nutritionist or naturopathic nutritionist as they can recommend a selection of supplements aiding the removal of gluten. For example one that came up regularly in my research was “Slippery Elm Bark”, which is also used in the treatment of Irritable bowel Syndrome.
What do you replace your common grains with?
- Brown Rice
Be fastidious when choosing these foods because as I mentioned earlier these might contain traces of gluten based on processing methods. Read the label and ensure it says 100% gluten free.
This article could go a lot longer trust me…
Simply replacing normal wheat products with the above alternatives is the easy part. However, many products contain gluten that you may not be aware of, hidden by the use of a different term on the food packaging labels. So do your research and learn some of the other terms commonly used for gluten. Many producers are now disguising gluten under other names making shopping a nightmare even for a relatively informed consumer like myself. Eg –Triticum vulgare (wheat), Triticale (wheat/rye cross), Hordeum vulgare (barley).
Fortunately Australia has some of the strictest food labeling laws world wide. If the label reads Gluten-Free, then it will most certainly be Gluten free.
In summary being a conscious eater and being in tune with your body should always guide you to make informed food choices. If you think you have gluten intolerances then get yourself checked out (by a doctor/medical professional). If removing gluten from your diet on your own volition leads to improved health then your reason has been validated. Removing gluten from your diet because it’s a fad and it’s something Gwyneth Paltrow is advocating then you are doing it for the wrong reasons. Being informed about whether you have an intolerance to gluten is critical for your overall health, as you may eliminate ailments that you considered commonplace or had grown accustom to. There has been an increase in the diagnosis of food allergies in western populations, increasing by 20% in children over the last 10 years. So if you are a parent it is imperative to understand the role of gluten in our diets and the role that foods in general play on our health. I know the difficulties I have had with food allergies but also know parents who have had an incredibly difficult time dealing with their own child’s allergies). The science is there to overwhelmingly support the adverse affects of gluten and the need for us to get back to more evolutionary style eating habits,so do yourself a favour and read up and clean up.
Note** I don’t believe I have done justice to the research in illustrating the devastating affects of gluten on our health but hopefully I have given some indication as to why you should take notice if you are gluten intolerant or sensitive.
In my next article I will tackle soy products and soy substitutes, which is a suitable follow on from this article. This could mean the end of my soy latté’s… Oh no!
Websites mentioned in this article:
Other useful websites:
www.noshly.com – in pilot stage.
Noshly is an ambitious startup from Australia trying to make eating healthy and shopping to your diet preferences easy. Noshly is working on having the worlds largest and most comprehensive food database that profiles everything from food preferences to ingredients including additives and of course gluten, if that’s what your are trying to avoid. Simply by scanning your shopping receipt or the food barcode it will highlight any of your shopping basket products that contain ingredients that you don’t want.
1. Gedgaudas, T. N (2011). Primal Body, Primal Mind. Beyond the paleo diet for total health and longer life. Healing Arts press: Rochester, Vermont
2. Premysl, F., Gabrovska, D., and Nevoral, J. (2011). Celiac Disease, gluten free diet & oats. Nutrition in Clinical Care. 69 (2), 107-115
3. Visser, J., Rozing, J., Sapone, A., Lammers, K., and Fasano, A. (2009). Tight junction, intestinal permeability, and autoimmunity. Annals of The New York Academy of Sciences. 1165, 195-205