When you see that many stores have a wide selection of “gluten free” items all of a sudden, it’s easy to mistake gluten free for some kind of fad diet. And for some, it might be. But gluten intolerance is not something to be taken lightly. In fact, you probably have some kind of sensitivity to gluten too!
A very severe form of gluten intolerance is celiac disease. Celiac disease is a digestive disorder in which damage to the lining of the small intestine makes it difficult for the body to absorb minerals and nutrients. The small intestine becomes damaged because of an allergic reaction to gluten- which can be found in wheat, rye, barley and possibly oats. This allergic reaction causes inflammation that destroys the lining of the small intestine. People with true celiac disease have always been among us. In the past, celiac disease was considered a rare genetic issue, that affected less than .5% of the population. However, within the last 40 years or so, the number of people with celiac disease or some type of gluten intolerance has grown substantially. Researchers from the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that the incidence of celiac disease has doubled every 15 years since 1974! There are varying levels of gluten intolerance, and more and more people are discovering that they too, need to go gluten free.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is the elastic protein in wheat and other grains such as rye and barley. It’s what gives elasticity to dough. Think of it as glue.
Why are so many people allergic to it? I mean, isn’t bread a staple food around the world?
Yes bread has been considered a staple for thousands of years. But here’s the thing: the bread we consume today is nothing like the bread our ancestors ate. Ancient grains, as they are called, were prepared completely different than they are today! The bread we have today has been so overly processed (real bread isn’t fluffy) that it lacks certain essential nutrients- and these nutrients are necessary for proper digestion of the bread. Another “gift” of convenience foods I guess.
Furthermore, and I just found this out- most of the grains we eat today didn’t even exist a couple thousand years ago! The were only a few ancient grains, for example, there was Einkorn, Emmer, and some non-hybrid varieties of other grains like barley, millet and rye. These ancient grains have more protein and lower amounts of antinutrients than our modern grains. Traditionally, grains were soaked too, before eating. Soaking grains makes them easier to digest.
I have read that there are over 25,000 species of grains that exist today! Modern grains have been crossbred many times in order to make them more disease resistant or to produce higher yields. To make grains more resistant, parts of the grain that naturally resist disease and pests, gluten, lectins, and phytates, for example, have been enhanced. But there’s a catch (as there usually is when you mess with nature): gluten, lectins, and phytates are very harmful to humans!
Basically, modern wheat has been crossbred and processed so much, that wheat’s harmful properties (such as starch and gluten) have been enhanced. This creates inflammation in the body and leads to disease and obesity.
Gastro-intestinal problems (bloating, pain, gas, constipation, diarrhea)
Nutritional deficiencies (i.e. low iron)
Weight loss or weight gain
Infertility, irregular menstrual cycle and miscarriage
Cramps, tingling and numbness
Slow infant and child growth
Poor dental health
Keep in mind that both celiac disease and gluten intolerance can be exacerbated by emotional stress, infection, surgery, pregnancy and childbirth.
Many people have difficulty digesting the gluten protein in wheat and other grains, especially now days, since the wheat we are eating is very different from the wheat our ancestors ate. Furthermore, gluten sensitivity is usually something that gets worse over time. You see, the reason I never considered the fact that bread might be making me sick was because I’ve eaten wheat- and lot’s of it- my entire life! When I started working with children with autism, I started hearing more about gluten. But I figured if I were allergic my parents would have found out about it when I was a child. Now, I was sick a lot as a child, but I don’t recall having stomach pain and fatigue until college. And it gradually got worse over time. This is because as you continue to eat gluten, you are slowly destroying your small intestine. Over time, your intestine will absorb smaller and smaller amounts of dietary nutrients, leading to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Also, according to MedicineNet.com adults with celiac disease have a very high risk of developing lymphomas (cancers of the lymph glands) in the small intestine and elsewhere, and a high risk of developing cancer of the small intestine.
Many people are living with undiagnosed celiac disease and gluten intolerance.
I hope this doesn’t scare you. You can get tested for celiac disease, although the test may or may not produce accurate results for you. The best way to see whether or not you are affected by gluten is to eliminate it from your diet. They say to do it for at least 2 weeks. But I felt better after 2 days! In fact, most people will notice a difference immediately! How great is that? Try it. You have nothing to lose!
Except, gluten is tricky in that it is found in everything! You will be surprised how many processed foods contain gluten. In addition, many soups and salad dressings are thickened with flour. And watch out for processed foods labeled “gluten free” as many gluten free processed foods are not organic; in fact they usually have been genetically modified (which is a big No No if you care about your health). Also, wheat is often replaced with corn, rice, or soy- these are grains that are not exactly good for you- even if they happen to be organic (maybe with the exception of brown rice). But more on that later. Also, because food is made in factories now, most food items come into contact with other items that contain gluten. So it’s actually extremely difficult to find something in a store that is gluten free and has not been in contact with another food that does contain gluten. But you only have to worry about this last challenge if you have celiac disease (gluten intolerance in its most severe form).
A bit of good news is that some people who are sensitive to gluten can eat small amounts of sprouted grains. For example, I eat Oasis sprouted bread from time to time with no symptoms. I can’t say that it’s good for me, but it doesn’t make me feel rotten. So that’s what I eat when I really want some bread. Of course, I cheat sometimes (especially at social gatherings) but I do not recommend that! (If anyone has any advice on how to achieve greater self discipline, let me know!) Overall, however, I do avoid wheat and I feel better when I do. I try really hard to follow my basic healthy eating plan.
Another blessing in disguise is that, without gluten, I have learned to fill up on more veggies, fruit, and meat!
See these websites for more details on gluten intolerance:
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