Food & Diet
What Is Gluten and Is It Really That Bad?
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, gluten is the general term for the proteins present in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. Gluten is what forms the shape of these foods and holds them together like glue. It can be found in bread, pasta, sauces, cereals, food coloring, soups, beer, and several other foods.
Avoiding gluten isn’t easy, considering that to do so you need to avoid all foods made from the mentioned grains, and a classic American diet is based mostly on grains.
Many believe that only people with Celiac disease should avoid gluten, but that is not true. The fact is that those with Celiac disease have stronger reactions to gluten than those without the disease, but gluten is often harmful for everyone.
Gluten causes gut inflammation in 80% of the people consuming it, and 99% of people have the potential of developing antibodies against gluten, which is a good thing because it delays the reaction to gluten. However, only around 30% of people actually develop these antibodies, so the remaining 69% have a negative reaction.
The inflammation that gluten causes in the gut contributes to premature death of intestinal cells and leads to their oxidation, and consequently – a leaky gut.
This is fertile soil for bacterial proteins and toxic compounds to enter the bloodstream and cause autoimmune problems. A leaky gut can also cause indigestion and failure to absorb the necessary nutrients, which can lead to serious health problems.
Moreover, the gluten protein that causes most health problems – gliadin – is similar to proteins found in organs like the pancreas or the thyroid. This becomes a problem when this protein starts attacking those organs and causes autoimmune diseases (for thyroid – hypothyroidism, and for the pancreas – type 1 diabetes). There are obviously many ways in which gluten can harm us.
On the other hand, a gluten-free diet (excluding wheat, barley, rye and all the other sources of gluten from our diet) can help solve the problems a diet rich in gluten has caused.
Several studies showed that consumption of gluten-rich foods is strongly linked with ataxia, a permanent cerebellum damage (the part of the brain in charge of motor control). However, studies also show that with the exclusion of gluten from our diets, the ataxia improves significantly.
Some other brain disorders also improve with the expulsion of gluten from the diet.
For example, studies showed that many patients suffering from schizophrenia have seen a great improvement when they stopped eating gluten. Similar results happened in the cases of autism and epilepsy, once the patients stopped eating gluten-rich foods.
Switching to a Gluten-Free Diet
If you have decided to cut gluten out of your diet, you will have some adjusting to do. This diet is very restrictive if your nutrition is based primarily on grains. However, now there are many replacements for gluten-rich foods, such as gluten-free pasta and many other equally delicious substitutes.
On a gluten-free diet, you can eat anything that doesn’t contain gluten, obviously.
This means you can eat healthy and tasty foods that naturally don’t contain gluten, such as fresh meats, poultry and fish. Make sure that what you buy is not processed or marinated in any way – buy it whole and fresh, and spice it up as you like, but in a gluten-free manner. You can also eat unprocessed seeds, nuts and beans, most dairy products and of course – fruits and vegetables. This doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
There are grains that do not contain gluten and are harmless (if they are not mixed with something that does contain it). For example, amaranth, flax, millet, quinoa, rice and corn are good gluten-free grains you can eat without consequences.
Unfortunately, on a gluten-free diet you will have to say goodbye to beer and all the other drinks containing gluten (there are now some gluten-free beers, check the labels).
Also, most candies, cereals, pies and other sweets contain gluten, so that is a big no-no as well. However, there are some adapted versions of sweets labeled ‘gluten-free’ that you can enjoy in.
Switching to a gluten-free diet can be difficult, but you would be doing your body a huge favor. Gluten is not harmless at all, and even if you don’t feel the consequences right away, it causes damage to your body that will probably show after some time.
Don’t wait for it to happen, and choose a healthier lifestyle.