The Goods on Gluten-Free - Should You Try It?
One of the most talked about nutrition topics of the past couple of years has been whether or not gluten should have a place - or be forbidden - in our diets. Until recently, even the word ‘gluten’ would have been used almost exclusively in culinary, confectionery, and severe allergy professions alone. But, due to the recent increase in understanding about gluten, its properties, and health effects, the idea of going gluten-free has gained increasing popularity and as an understandable result, has left many people wondering whether or not gluten-free is the way to go in their own lives.
If you’ve been curious about gluten, even if you’ve already experimented with gluten-free living, it’s important to have a good understanding of the basics around the topic so that you can make informed decisions about the nutrition you and your family access.
What is gluten anyway?
Gluten is the name of a family of proteins found in wheat and wheat-related grains. Gluten itself is what enables foods maintain their shape, acting as a ‘glue’ to give foods texture and bond it together. It can be found in many foods, even where you might not expect it.
There are three big categories of grains that are known as ‘glutinous grains.’ These include:
Wheat (including Wheat berries, Durum, Emmer, Semolina, Spelt, Farina, Farro, Graham, Kamut, and Einkorn)
Things like bread and crackers, pastries, pasta, cereals, beer, soups and sauces (which could contain grains or flours as thickeners), brewer’s yeast, and food colouring are some foods and beverages that contain these grains. Even though they naturally contain gluten; sometimes, gluten itself is used in other foods to act as a binding agent to give texture and hold to other products.
Are most people allergic to gluten?
According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada 2012,2013,
"Gluten free" is the fasted growing food intolerance category. The dynamic growth is in part due to increasing awareness of Celiac disease and avoidance of gluten for other reasons.
Celiac Disease Sufferers
Celiac disease, is an autoimmune disease recognized as one of the most common chronic conditions in the world.
It is estimated that it affects as many as 1 in every 100-200 people in North America. As many as 300,000 Canadians could have this disease; however many remain diagnosed according to stats from Health Canada.
The symptoms are triggered by gluten resulting in inflammation and damage to the lining of the small intestine, and reduced absorption of iron, calcium, vitamin A,D,E,K and Folate among others.
Symptoms of celiac disease vary among individual, they are serious and uncomfortable and include abdominal pain, skin rashes, headaches, diarrhea, vomiting, and even unexplained weight loss.
In cases of celiac disease, it’s imperative for the individual to remove all sources of gluten from their diets as well as from any personal care items they use. Since some of the unlikely sources of gluten can include lipsticks and balms, body and hand creams, and cosmetics which could introduce trace amounts of gluten that would trigger a reaction.
Some individuals may have silent celiac disease. These individuals have positive blood test and positive intestinal biopsy but are symptom free.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
While celiac disease is a serious health risk, there are still others who suffer from Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity or non-celiac wheat sensitivity. These individuals don't exhibit an allergic or autoimmune reaction. Food sensitivities are delayed reactions to specific foods that are triggered by IgG antibodies. Once formed, the antigen-antibody complexes can overwhelm the immune system, accumulate and get deposited in tissue, and result in inflammatory process leading to numerous diseases and conditions.
Those with Other Gut Disorders
There’s still a third group of people who also benefit from removing gluten - those who suffer from other gut-related illnesses such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), Crohn's disease, and Ulcerative Colitis and who require a FODMAP diet. FODMAPs are a group of small carbohydrate molecules found in all kinds of foods. While they are common, they may be poorly absorbed in the small intestine of some people with already compromised digestive functions. Taking out glutinous grains is a key way of relieving part of the strains on a weak digestive system because it naturally removes the FODMAPs that can be the cause .
What do I need to know to go gluten-free?
Whole grains do contain a number of important nutrients, such as fiber, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, folate, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B12, and vitamin D, and some protein. So when deciding to remove gluten-containing whole grains from your diet, be sure to create a robust diet that can replace these, and/or take supplements to add to your security.
Know too, that many gluten-free substitutes like cookies, brownies, and breads usually contain higher levels of fats, sugar, and salt than their conventional counterparts. If you crave the comfort of baked goods or cereals, we recommend creating your own gluten-free versions at home for the healthiest alternative.
Going gluten-free will take time, patience, and practice - we know, because we’ve helped dozens of families do it with success! Sometimes you don’t even realize how much gluten is affecting your system until you eliminate it. Check our Facebook page where we feature monthly gluten free recipes and you’ll find a few tried and true favourites to get you going.
If you suffer from symptoms such as constant stomach pain, headaches, bowel issues or other symptoms that could be related to gluten sensitivity, please book an appointment so we can properly test you for celiac disease. We want to make sure you’re living your healthiest life possible! If not, but you’d still like to explore the health benefits of removing gluten, we’d love to help you make a plan to get your health back on track by managing your gut health.
To your good health,
Dr Tannaz Mokhtari ND.