When you think about gluten, you probably imagine something along the lines of wheat. While that is partially true, gluten is more complexly known as a group of amino acids that are largely made up of two proteins, gliadin, and glutenin. Both of these proteins are crucial to the production of bread making, gliadin which aids in the ability of the dough rising, and glutenin giving dough the elasticity that is unique to bread dough.
But where else might you find gluten other than wheat? A majority of grains contain gluten including barley, rye, spelt, kamut, farro, and durum. However, there are a couple of grains that are naturally gluten free, those being rice, oats, corn, millet, and buckwheat. Despite these grains being gluten free, it is common to find cross-contamination due to co-mingling during processing.
Nowadays, we are seeing gluten containing grains not only in their whole form or floured form but in a plethora of processed foods. Long past is the day when salad dressings, condiments, soups, sandwich meats and more didn’t contain gluten. Gluten-containing grains are often used in processed foods as a thickening agent.
Am I Sensitive?
In the US today, there are over 3 million Americans who are affected by celiac disease. When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, in any form, an immune response is triggered which leads to damage in the small intestine, which in turn stops the absorption of important nutrients. If a person is left undiagnosed or untreated it can lead to osteoporosis, severe nutrient deficiency, and other serious autoimmune conditions. The bottom line is, celiac can be life-threatening and requires strict avoidance of gluten containing foods as well as strict cleaning procedures of shared food prep.
But it’s okay to eat gluten if you don’t have celiac, right? Not necessarily. In recent studies, it has been found that gliadin, one of the proteins found in gluten, can cause a negative impact on the small intestine. The negative impact of the small intestine can lead to increased food intolerances or sensitivity, inflammation, allergies, a reduced immune system, nutritional deficiency, and an increased risk of infection.
It has been a common misconception throughout the years that you cannot have a gluten sensitivity without having celiac. But those days are long gone, with researchers classifying that gluten sensitivity is a spectrum and celiac is on the extreme end. So, how might you know if you have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)?
Symptoms of NCGS:
- Excessive bloating, abdominal pain, and cramping
- Significant “brain fog”, difficulty concentrating, and trouble to remember information
- ADD and ADHD
- Frequent headaches
- Low-energy or chronic fatigue
- Muscle aches and joint pain
- Numbness and tingling of the limbs
- Eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and rashes
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
If you experience any of the symptoms above, cutting the dreaded gluten out of your diet may be right for you.
You’ve Been Replaced, Gluten.
Before cutting gluten out of your diet, it is important to note what you should be replacing it with. A huge part of non-gluten free diets is wheat. Why does this matter? There are laws in place requiring wheat flour to be fortified with iron and the B-vitamins folic acid, thiamin, niacin, and riboflavin. Flours that are gluten free are not fortified with these nutrients. These nutrients are crucial to a healthy diet, so when replacing wheat flour with gluten free alternatives, a gluten free individual can run themselves into a nutrient-sparse diet. This is not ideal but it is easily remedied with the correct replacement of foods.
Wheat does contain nutrients that are important for our bodies. However, the nutrients in wheat come from fortification which is not always included in wheat products. Manganese, betaine, folate, copper, zinc, and selenium all can be derived from wheat, but also can be found in other foods. Below are a couple of ways to get these amazing nutrients in other forms than wheat.
Manganese: nuts, pineapple, bivalves like mussels and clams
Betaine: spinach (this is the second richest in betaine behind wheat germ)
Folate: leafy greens, pastured egg yolks, animal liver, kefir
Copper: dark chocolate, oysters, ruminant liver (once a week can provide all the copper you need)
Zinc: red meats and oysters
Selenium: brazil nuts (one a day will suffice), pastured eggs, wild salmon
To avoid a nutrient-scare diet, it is important to eat a varied primal table. Don’t just stick to chicken and rice! The key to a happy healthy body is variation in your food intake.
On Track to a Happy Healthier Life
The switch to a gluten free life isn’t easy. However, the rewards may outweigh the hardship of switching over for you. With the absence of gluten in your diet, you may start to feel more energized. Or maybe you’ll stop experiencing painful bloating, aches and pain.
When making the switch, it is important to know that you don’t have to go cold turkey. It can be hard for some to stop eating their beloved bread or pasta, and that is okay, everyone is different. Weaning yourself off gluten little by little can be beneficial for preventing a relapse back into a gluten filled diet. Sticking to a gluten free diet is no walk in the park, but with the right education on a proper diet and a positive outlook, you could start to see huge changes in the way you feel. Below are a few resources that look more in-depth at a gluten free diet.