According to a recent survey, thirty percent of adults are interested in avoiding or cutting back on the gluten in their diets.
Are you one of them?
It used to be that only those with celiac disease followed a gluten-free diet, but that’s changed. Many people have realized that uncomfortable digestive symptoms, aches and pains, and skin problems can all be related to their diet—and that gluten may very well be the culprit.
Here’s more, and how you can tell if gluten-free may be right for you.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is the general name for the proteins found in wheat and some other grains, including rye, barley, and triticale. Oats do not contain gluten on their own, but they are often contaminated with it because they’re processed in the same plants as wheat.
Note: Wheatgrass and barley grass are usually gluten-free. It’s only the mature seeds that contain the troublesome proteins.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease—similar to multiple sclerosis, lupus, type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis—in which the immune system mistakenly attacks certain areas of the body. Here’s how it works:
Jack, who has celiac disease, eats wheat or another grain that contains gluten.
Jack’s immune system mistakes the gluten for an invader, like a virus or bacterium, and attacks it in the digestive tract, trying to get rid of it.
This immune attack damages the small intestine.
Over time, if Jack continues to eat gluten, the resulting damage to the intestine mayinterfere with the absorption of nutrients, which can lead to malnourishment and other difficult complications.
People with celiac disease can avoid damaging the small intestine by staying away from gluten. That’s where the gluten-free diet got its start. But recently, research has discovered that it’s not only those with celiac disease who may have trouble digesting gluten.
Several studies that have suggested that people can have trouble digesting gluten, even if they don’t have celiac disease. Some may have an actual allergy to wheat, which could show up as uncomfortable digestive symptoms after consuming it. Others who eat wheat, barley, or rye and then experience the following symptoms, may suffer from “gluten intolerance” or a “gluten sensitivity:”
- Gas and bloating
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Frequent diarrhea or chronic constipation
- Frequent migraine or other headaches
- Brain fog
- Chronic fatigue
- Aches and pains, including joint pain
- Chronic acne or eczema
- Depression or anxiety
There is some debate in the scientific world as to whether it’s the gluten that causes these symptoms in non-celiac individuals, or something else, like certain types of poorly absorbed carbohydrates.
In a 2013 study, for instance, individuals who thought they were gluten-sensitive and who suffered from IBS ate a diet with these carbohydrates removed. While eating this diet, their symptoms significantly improved, even though they were still eating gluten.
Therefore, it’s important to determine whether gluten is to blame for your symptoms, or if it might be something else in your diet.
How to Determine if Gluten-Free is Right for You
So far, we don’t have any sort of medical test to diagnose gluten sensitivity, so it’s up to you to determine whether you may have it. Try the following steps and pay close attention to how you feel. If your symptoms improve, you may want to continue decreasing the wheat, rye, and barley you consume.
If you don’t feel better, though, keep looking for the source of your symptoms. A gluten-free diet requires a lot of effort to maintain, so if you’re not sensitive, you may have no reason to continue limiting these grains in your diet.
After all, the main goal is not to join a fad or get on the current “cool” diet, but to feel as energetic, vibrant, and healthy as you can!
1. Keep a food diary for about a week. Write down everything you eat and drink, and note how you feel 30 minutes, one hour, and two hours later. Note any connection between uncomfortable symptoms and any wheat, rye, or barley you may have consumed. Be sure to check for wheat in your breakfast cereals, crackers, and other processed foods.
- Start eliminating gluten. If you notice a possible connection between wheat and your symptoms, give the gluten-free diet a try. Avoid anything with wheat, rye, or barley in it. Choose instead fresh fruits and vegetables, and gluten-free grains like quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, sorghum, wild rice, and gluten-free oats.
- Record your symptoms. Continue to keep your food diary. This is very important! You want to see if taking gluten out of your diet helps you to feel better. A two-week period off of gluten is best, but take at least one week to see how you respond.
- Determine your results. After one or two weeks of avoiding gluten, sit down and look at your diary. What do you see? More importantly, how do you feel? If you feel better, continue your experiment for another week and repeat this step.
- Check it again. What if you don’t feel better? First, make sure that gluten isn’t sneaking into your diet in some way. Read all ingredient labels on everything you consume. Then consider trying the gluten-free diet for one more week. If you still don’t feel better, it’s time to go back to the drawing board, and find out what is really causing your symptoms. (You may want to check with your doctor as well.) Re-introduce the gluten and see what happens. If you start to feel worse, try the gluten-free again.
The important thing is to be your own best health advocate. Be honest with yourself. Be aware of your body and what it’s telling you, and make adjustments that are best for you.
Here’s to your good health!
Products for You
If you feel better on the gluten-free diet, try these products:
- Thermofit: If you want to lose weight along with your new diet, try this natural supplement with superfood acai berry and metabolism-boosting Capsimax—a red hot pepper blend that encourages your body to burn calories.
- ProFit: Boost your weight-loss and fitness efforts with this yummy shake mix. Contains a superfood nutrition mix, mood elevating nutrients, and heart healthy fiber.
- Its Essential: These energy bars give you a great midday boost without the gluten, and with the healthy dietary fiber to help keep you feeling full until your next meal.
Do you think you have a gluten sensitivity? Are you going to try the gluten-free diet? Please share your thoughts.
“Gluten-Free Diet Appeals to 30 Percent of Adults, Survey Says,” Huffington Post, March 6, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/06/gluten-free-diet_n_2818954.html.
Tamara Duker Freuman, “What is Gluten, Anyway?” US News, July 24, 2012, http://health.usnews.com/health- news/blogs/eat-run/2012/07/24/what-is-gluten-anyway.
Biesiekierski JR, et al., “No effects of gluten in patients with self-reported non-celiac gluten sensitivity after dietary reduction of fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates,” Gasteroenterology, 2013 Aug; 145(2):320-8, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23648697.