Clearing Up The Haze Around Gluten Free
The term ‘gluten free’ is thrown around frequently these days. First thing’s first…What is gluten? You see the word used in restaurants, grocery stores, and media outlets. You read it on food labels, advertisements, and the internet. Many of you may already be eating gluten free yourself. However, there are thousands of people out there that don’t quite fully understand what gluten is yet, or why it is better left out of our daily diets. Let’s explore the definition of gluten and why so many people are choosing to go gluten free.
What is gluten?
glu·tenˈɡlo͞otn/noun1. Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (durum, emmer, spelt, farina, farro, KAMUT® khorasan wheat and einkorn), rye, barley and triticale. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together.[Definition from Celiac.org, 2015]
Interestingly enough, when the term ‘gluten’ was coined in the seventeenth century, it was to label the sticky mass derived from combining flour and water. People back then had no idea that it’s a protein, or why that protein is so hard for people to digest.
So what’s the big deal? Why is gluten bad?
Gluten is not bad for everyone. Although, I believe time will tell that it is bad for most. The reason it is becoming such a prevalent term in today’s society is because of an increased awareness (both among medical professionals and the general public) of the effects gluten has when consumed by a gluten-intolerant person. The gluten protein is very difficult (and impossible for some) to digest. When your body fails to break down and process Gluten, it causes inflammation and destruction of the inner lining of the small intestine. This chronic digestive disorder also leads to the malabsorption of minerals and nutrients.
Those who have zero ability to digest gluten properly are likely battling an increasingly common auto-immune disease called Celiac Disease. Those who are simply gluten intolerant may still be able to consume small amounts of the protein without any extreme symptoms. However, those with full allergies to wheat, or Celiac Disease, must avoid gluten entirely.
Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
- Stomach pain or bloating
- Acid Reflux (GERD)
- Gas and/or cramps
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Weight Loss or Weight Gain
- Irritability and behavioral changes
- Aching joints
- Itchy skin
- Rash or hives
- Canker sores
- Fat in the stools (due to poor digestion)
- Slow infant and child growth
Part of the reason that gluten-intolerance has gone undiagnosed for so long is that many of it’s symptoms are very generic and easily misattributed to other illnesses. One of the most common misdiagnoses for gluten-caused gastrointestinal related symptoms is Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS). Western medicine doctors are definitely behind the curve when it comes to properly recognizing and diagnosing gluten intolerances and/or Celiac Disease.
Eastern medicine practices, on the other hand, look at the body as a holistic system. They acknowledge diet as an integral component of health. If you suspect you may be struggling with gluten-intolerance and desire a consultation with a physician, I would recommend researching your chosen doctor carefully to avoid misdiagnosis. Naturopaths are a good place to start. Elimination diets are also an excellent measure of intolerance and they can be completed without the help (or cost) of a doctor.
Gluten Related Disorders
A chart of disorders that can be linked to gluten intolerance.
Chart taken from Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluten-related_disorders]