Gluten – Is it really that bad?
Gluten is a protein that is contained within many grains that we eat (wheat, rye, barley, spelt, triticale, kamut, semolina and a small amount in oats). There is a question over oats actually containing gluten or is it cross contaminated in the packaging process by other grains. Oats are an amazing food but as a practitioner with over 15 years’ experience I have found that it is better to take people off of oats as well when there is a gluten intolerance suspected.
True gluten allergy is called Coeliac Disease (CD) and is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the intestinal wall and flattening of the microvilli. This leads to decreased absorption of nutrients and symptoms such as abdominal bloating, pain, diarrhoea, constipation, flatulence, heartburn and nausea. Other symptoms that are associated with CD but are not within the digestive system are as follows; sinusitis, asthma, skin disorders, fatigue, bone and muscle pain, behavioural and mood problems, poor growth in children, weight loss, hair loss, menstrual issues and anaemia.
Gluten sensitivity is a condition where a person is reactive to gluten but they don’t have the autoimmune markers that are associated with CD. Many people these days find they react to gluten to a certain level and feel much better without it in their diet. Many of the symptoms of gluten sensitivity are the same as for CD.
Western society has moved to a diet heavily dependent on grains with many individuals eating upwards of 60% of their diet based around these foods. Many packaged foods contain gluten even if they don’t appear to contain wheat as the food industry also uses the glucose from wheat as a sweetener in foods and is labelled as maltodextrin or dextrins. Foods these days should clarify if the maltodextrin is from wheat or a corn source, if it doesn’t state either just put the food back!
Going gluten free is not as hard as it used to be in Australia, health food stores have always stocked many gluten free foods and supermarkets now have a whole section in their ‘healthy food isle’ that are gluten free too. Be aware that just because a product is gluten free does not mean it is healthy for you, it just doesn’t contain gluten.
If you think you may be coeliac ask for a blood test from your doctor, if you think you may be gluten sensitive just give gluten free a try for 2 or 3 weeks and see how you feel. You need to be very careful about not eating little amounts of hidden gluten in food or you won’t feel the difference. There is a plethora of gluten free breads these days just note you need to really toast the breads well and they are best kept in the fridge or freezer. Focus on rice, potato, sweat potato, corn and quinoa as your grain or starchy sources.
Wheat grass and barley grass do not contain gluten as they are only the ‘grass’ portion and do not contain the endosperm of the grain where the gluten resides. There are many websites to help with CD or gluten intolerance with lists of the foods, numbers and additives that need to be avoided. Recipes can also be found on many websites and there are a plethora of great gluten free cook books to be found. These days there are whole expo’s for gluten free foods and products to make the switch to gluten free all the more simple. I have now been gluten free for over a decade and would never go back. Occasionally I have to eat gluten as I haven’t warned someone that I am gluten free but most of the time it’s easy to find an alternative food or option. I have taken to carrying snacks with me all the time and in my car so that I don’t eat the wrong things. I do get mild bloating with eating gluten but for the most noticeable thing is my mood and energy levels. It’s interesting to ‘really’ listen to your body and see what works for it and doesn’t. I get many of my clients to try gluten free for a few weeks, just to give them the challenge and to enable them to tune into their bodies and see what they are really asking for.
Below is a list of a few websites that I have found useful over the years for both coeliacs and people just trying to be gluten free.