Is going gluten free necessary for optimal health?
How do you feel after you eat something with gluten?
Let’s think of a specific food.
Say, a slice of pizza. Pizza dough is made out of flour and yeast. You may think that it’s the yeast in pizza dough that contains gluten. But most of the time, the yeast used in baking contains no gluten. Rather, it’s the flour that contains a high gluten content.
So unless you’re eating pizza that’s made with slow-rise gluten-free flour imported from Italy, your average slice in a pizza place likely contains a crust with lots of gluten.
Does eating pizza make you feel bloated? Do you notice that shortly after eating a couple slices you get dark circles under your eyes? Is your nose stuffy? Do you feel more lethargic and kind of out of it, mentally (foggy-brained)?
If so, then you’re probably experiencing a reaction to gluten.
Does this mean you should go gluten free to avoid these symptoms?
Before answering the question, let’s take a step back and get to know gluten...
What Is Gluten?
Say the first syllable in gluten. This will give you a clue as to what this substance is. It’s the sticky, glue-like proteins of wheat, rye, barley, spelt and other grains. When flour and water are mixed to form dough, it’s gluten that provides the structural matrix, allowing your pizza crust in the making to stretch and rise without breaking.
Not all wheat is created the same. In fact, there are at least a half-dozen different classes or varieties of wheat. According to the website eatwheat.org, which most certainly does not advocate going gluten-free, here are the six wheat classes: hard red winter (used for bread and all-purpose flour); hard red spring (bagels, croissants, designer bread); soft red winter (snacks: cookies, crackers, pretzels); soft white (flatbreads and cakes); hard white (tortillas); and durum (pasta and couscous).
How Many People Are Allergic To Gluten?
Not very many. It’s estimated that only up to one percent of the U.S. population has a diagnosed gluten allergy. This condition—Celiac Disease—can be debilitating. Just one crumb particle from a toaster can cross-contaminate a gluten-free piece of bread as if it’s an infecting pathogen. And when that happens, somebody with Celiac Disease can experience severe abdominal discomfort. That’s why those with the condition have to be extra diligent when it comes to dining out.
But for the majority of people, severe reactions to gluten are an unlikely occurrence. That, however, does not mean many people aren’t sensitive to it. According to BeyondCeliac.org, an estimated 18 million Americans are gluten sensitive or intolerant (the terms are interchangeable). In comparison, 3 million Americans have Celiac Disease.
Are There Health Benefits To Going Gluten Free?
Most definitely, if you have Celiac Disease or are gluten-sensitive. Certain medical conditions may be improved by avoiding gluten. For instance, a study in Advances in Nutrition suggests gluten-free diets lessen the severity of schizophrenia as well as episodes of the condition.
Although research studies are mostly inconclusive, anecdotal evidence suggests that avoiding gluten may improve certain skin conditions, joint discomfort, digestive problems, and cognitive functioning.
How Can I Tell If I’m Sensitive To Gluten?
The best way is to closely monitor how you feel after eating a wheat- or flour-based product. If you experience any of the symptoms already mentioned, you may be intolerant of gluten. Try going gluten-free and if you feel better, it might be an indication that going gluten-free can improve your health.
But the only way to know for sure if your body is intolerant of these structural proteins is two ways: a blood test and a biopsy. The former screens for the immune antibody known as IgA, while the latter takes a sliver of your small intestinal tissue to assess it for damage caused by gluten structural proteins.
If you want to accurately keep track of how gluten affects your sense of well-being, keep a food journal. Go gluten-free for a few weeks if you notice any symptoms. Then, you can slowly reintroduce foods with gluten one at a time.
Does Gluten Make You Fatter?
If you eat heavily-processed grains, gluten may indeed contribute to bloating. The inability of your digestive system to digest the protein particles in wheat also causes gas, cramping and constipation. And obviously, these conditions do not help you get in shape for bikini season.
Is All Gluten Bad?
But some people believe that it’s not necessarily gluten that’s to blame. Rather, it’s the way in which modern, industrialized food is processed. And the way in which commercial brands of breads, pastries, snacks, etc. are processed, there’s a much larger amount of gluten than there was in heirloom, ancient varieties.
If you really want to test how sensitive to gluten you are, eat a piece of ancient wheat bread such as emmer wheat or einkorn. Spelt and kamut are a couple other examples of heirloom wheat varieties. If you eat one of these ancient, heirloom varietals and don’t experience any adverse effects then you may not need to go gluten-free.
Furthermore, it may not be gluten itself you’re sensitive to. More accurately, it could be gliadin, which is one of the two protein components of gluten. Gliadin accounts for approximately 70% of gluten’s protein content (glutenin makes up the other 30%).
Not being able to break down gliadin can have serious health consequences. It can lead to an autoimmune condition. That’s why if you have any chronic digestive or joint problems, you should consult with a functional medicine doctor or other health professional about gluten sensitivity. In this case, going gluten-free may help, provided you don’t eat an abundance of unhealthy, highly-processed gluten-free snacks that have become commonplace on supermarket shelves.
But if you enjoy good health and stick to minimally-processed ancient grains, you don’t necessarily have to go gluten-free.
When it comes to food allergies, it's more likely that the root cause of them are the thousands of chemicals that are allowed in the U.S. food supply. This includes the world's most widely used, toxic herbicide/pesticide, glyphosate. Maybe gluten, especially from highly-processed grains, is culpable. Maybe not.
In general, however, considering how pervasive processed foods are in the standard American diet (SAD), it’s probably a good idea to limit your intake of gluten. All BoKU superfood powders are formulated without gluten.
The moral of any nutrition article is to eat real foods that support optimum health. Superfoods like this award-winning blend of 55 ingredients provides the foundation for optimal health.