What is gluten?
Gluten is a sticky protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. It is also in most oats, not because of the oat itself, but because of the way it is processed. Gluten is a substance that can make your body pretty ill if you can’t tolerate it. To get a more technical explanation, click here.
How does gluten affect the body?
If you are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease your body thinks gluten is a foreign substance. It doesn’t know that it’s meant to be a source of nutrition. So, when gluten reaches your gut, it panics. Your gut reacts by sending antibodies to attack the unknown substance. This causes your immune system to become hyper-alert with auto-immune components. And it can cause your body to attack its own tissue. When your immune system attacks, it damages the villi (small “fingers” in your small intestine that absorb nutrients from your food), so they can’t absorb what your body needs to live. This can cause your body to destroy its own tissues and shut down.
What are the symptoms?
According to the Center for Celiac Research, the University of Maryland, an additional 6% (18 million people) may be classified with “gluten sensitivity” or “gluten intolerance”. Common symptoms of gluten intolerance are abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, weight gain or loss, constipation, diarrhea and alternating between constipation and diarrhea. Approximately 1 in 130 people have the worst reaction, now labeled, “celiac disease”. Click on this link for more information about celiac disease.
What’s the cure?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for gluten intolerance or celiac disease. The only thing you can do is avoid gluten with a gluten-free diet. Most people start to feel better within days of removing gluten from their diets if they can’t tolerate it. Testing can help identify gluten sensitivity. You can be medically tested and you can do your own elimination test as well.
The only way you will know if gluten really is a problem for you is to eliminate all gluten from your diet for a short period of time (2 to 4 weeks). I personally recommend 30 days of being totally gluten-free. For this test to work, you must eliminate 100 percent of the gluten from your diet. After 30 days of this elimination process, try eating gluten again to see how your body reacts. If you feel bad at all, you need to stay off gluten permanently.
This will teach you better than any test about the impact gluten has on your body. You will need to get rid of the following foods: gluten (barley, rye, oats, spelt, kamut, wheat, triticale)–see www.celiac.com for a complete list of foods that contain gluten, as well as often surprising and hidden sources of gluten. There are lots of hidden sources of gluten in your diet (soup, mixes, salad dressings, sauces, alcohol, certain vitamins, medications, and even Play-Doh.) You will have to look at every label. You can read about my personal journey on how I realized I have an intolerance to gluten here.
Where does it hide?
Staying away from gluten is not as simple as it seems. Being gluten-free is not just staying away from bread and pasta. Unfortunately, gluten is in many foods and products you would not immediately think it would be in (candy, yogurt, dressings, sauces, processed meats, canned tomato soup, soy sauce, nutritional supplements, and medicine).
You will need to look at all labels. A lot of companies list allergens in bold lettering on their labels, but not all of them do. Gluten ingredients are not always listed as wheat. Some other ways gluten is listed in ingredients are modified food starch (unless it’s corn starch), MSG, textured vegetable protein, emulsifiers, caramel color, malt, and soy sauce.
For a good list of safe products click here and unsafe products click here. The point is to be aware, read and educate yourself. Do not assume that the food you are about to eat is safe. When in doubt, check it out!
How do I do this?
Going gluten-free can be totally overwhelming at first. I promise that it does get easier and that it is so worth it! Try and focus on what you can eat and not what you can’t eat. There is a whole big beautiful world of naturally gluten-free foods out there!
Fruits, vegetables, beans, rice, unprocessed meats, dairy, most cheeses, fish, and seafood. There are also really great gluten-free alternatives for pasta, bread, cookies, and cakes. There are a ton of great gluten-free recipes too.
The gluten-free community is really great on sharing resources. Have a plan when you go grocery shopping. Make lists, find good recipes, know what’s on the not safe list and check EVERY label. Look at it as a new adventure.