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What is Gluten-Free?


What is Gluten-Free?

Ten years ago, most people had probably never even heard of gluten-free. But today, almost everyone has either heard of it or maybe even knows someone who is following a gluten-free diet.

It’s currently estimated that 1 in 16 Americans – roughly 18 million Americans - have some form of gluten sensitivity.

But what exactly is gluten and why do so many need to eliminate it from their diets?

Gluten is the protein found in most grains and cereals. It is what gives bread that wonderful elastic nature. 

Most people have no issues digesting this protein, but for a growing percentage of the population, eating gluten can cause serious health problems and they can no longer eat any foods containing wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats. These do not naturally contain any offending gluten, but are often contaminated by wheat during harvesting and processing.     

So why are so many people suddenly finding out they have issues with gluten now?

Because the quality and type of gluten proteins in the wheat we farm now has been genetically modified and manipulated, creating wheat with much higher gluten content and many more of the gluten proteins that cause celiac disease and autoimmune antibodies.

So what happens when someone with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease eats gluten?

When a person eats something, the food travels down to the small intestine. Eating food that contains gluten for someone who is gluten intolerant or has celiac disease, even a tiny amount the size of one grain of rice, causes an immune system reaction. The body views the gluten as a toxin or a poison. It then releases antibodies to attack the gluten, attacking itself in the process. And in doing so also damages and destroys the villi, the tiny microscopic finger-like projections in the small intestines that absorb nutrients and pass them into the bloodstream. When the villi become damaged, they become inflamed and flatten, making it more difficult or almost impossible for the body to absorb nutrients and pass them into the bloodstream.

What are the symptoms of celiac disease and gluten intolerance?

This isn’t really a clear cut answer.  Most people mistakenly think it’s just stomach upset and intestinal issues, but recently it’s been discovered there are so many other symptoms which can be associated with gluten intolerance or celiac: 

  • Headache
  • Brain Fog
  • Abdominal Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Arthritis
  • Irritability or depression
  • Anemia
  • Stomach upset
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle cramps
  • Skin rash
  • Mouth sores
  • Dental and bone disorders (such as osteoporosis)
  • Tingling in the legs and feet (neuropathy)Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Lactose Intolerance
  • Liver Disease
  • Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (Cancer)
  • Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Obesity
  • Osteomalacia or Low Bone Density
  • Thyroid and Pancreatic Disorders
  • Type I Diabetes 

Is there a cure?

Follow a gluten-free diet. Most people find their symptoms improve within 2 weeks of beginning a gluten-free diet. And for most people, in several months to sometimes several years, even the villi will return to normal and the body can absorb nutrients properly again.

Does following a gf diet mean having to give up all my favorite foods?

Not at all. It’s absolutely possible to still eat all your favorite foods. Foods that taste as incredibly delicious as those full of gluten. Cakes, cookies, breads, pies, brownies. We’ve been eating this way for the last ten years and there’s nothing we go without. Well, except for gluten.

 

 

Image credits: 
http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/celiac/ small intestine image
wheat image - FreeFoto.com web site
brown rice - freedigitalphotos.com
All other photos obtained from 123rf.com/photo.