For many individuals, the advantages and benefits of a gluten free diet translate to better health. However, people with Celiac disease and/or allergies find the benefits of a gluten free diet to be life sustaining. Gluten free products lack gluten in the protein, which is normally found in wheat and barley, for example. This is why a gluten free diet is closely related to a wheat free diet. Some gluten free ingredients include rice, millet and quinoa. Products made with rice, millet, and quinoa are very popular as substitutes for wheat and barley based products.
For people struggling with inflammatory diseases and autoimmune disorders, gluten free has proven to be beneficial. The gluten in grain is not recognized by the immune system, so it attacks the intestines and can cause severe damage. People who are unaware they have a sensitivity to gluten can cause permanent damage to their body and can suffer from nutrient loss because their digestive tract doesn't absorb nutrients from their food properly. Some immediate symptoms of gluten intolerance include gas and bloating. People suffering from Crohn's disease and those with lupus are told to stay away from gluten because of the increased risk of inflammation in the joints as well as, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. The advantages of gluten free include a reduction in some of these symptoms and a healthier life. People who go gluten free also report an increase in energy. Some autistic children, when placed on a gluten free diet, showed significant improvement in their behavior.
Then there are those who have Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. Research actually suggests that 18 million Americans have gluten sensitivity, which is 6 times the amount of those with Celiac Disease. Thankfully, the science on gluten sensitivity is evolving and we're learning new information on the condition regularly. New research suggests that gluten alone may not be responsible for the symptoms produced by the condition currently called gluten sensitivity. Instead, it is showing that perhaps FODMAPs, a group of poorly digested carbohydrates, may be the cause of the symptoms instead. It is also important to note that wheat, barley and rye - gluten-containing grains - are all high in FODMAPs. FODMAPs = Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosacchardies and Polyols.
FODMAPs are carbohydrates found in foods, but not all carbohydrates are considered FODMAPs. FODMAPS are osmotic (they pull water into the intestinal tract), may not be digested or absorbed well and could be fermented upon by bacteria in the intestinal tract when eaten in excess. Symptoms of diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating and/or cramping may occur in those who could be sensitive to the effects of FODMAPs. A low FODMAP diet may help reduce symptoms, which will limit foods high in fructose, lactose, fructans, galactans and polyols.
- Fructose (fruits, honey, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), etc)
- Lactose (dairy)
- Fructans (wheat, garlic, onion, inulin etc)
- Galactans (legumes such as beans, lentils, soybeans, etc)
- Polyols (sweeteners containing isomalt, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, stone fruits such as avocado, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums, etc)
The bottom line, a gluten-free diet has proven to be very beneficial to many, but the answer is to not raid the shelves of the gluten-free aisle in the grocery store. These items are highly processed, and it is best to stick to naturally non-gluten containing foods, such as brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, and amaranth. If you do not suffer from any of these diseases or have any symptoms related to IBS, gluten is ok to consume in moderation; it is not recommended to cut out entire food groups. My only concern is the rise in the production of genetically modified wheat, which may affect our health and the environment, but that will be in part two of my gluten-free series.
National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. (2014). Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. Retrieved from http://www.celiaccentral.org/non-celiac-gluten-sensitivity/
Stanford University & Health Center. (2014). The Low FODMAP Diet. Retrieved from http://stanfordhealthcare.org/content/dam/SHC/for-patients-component/programs-services/clinical-nutrition-services/docs/pdf-lowfodmapdiet.pdf
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