Most of us have likely heard about gluten and gluten-free diets. But what is gluten exactly and is gluten bad? And why eat gluten-free at all?
Is it always helpful or is it ever risky to eat a gluten-free diet? There are really endless questions that arise from this topic.
To help clear the air, here is a complete guide to everything you need to know about the gluten-free diet, why someone might switch to eating gluten-free, and more.
First, let’s start out with some of the basics.
What Is Gluten Exactly? And Is Gluten Bad?
Gluten is a family of proteins found in wheat, rye, spelt, and barley. The word gluten is derived from the Latin word that means “glue,” because it gives flour a stick consistency when it is mixed with water.
It is the stickiness that gives bread the ability to rise when baked. It also gives bread its chewy and soft texture.
Sadly, many people feel uncomfortable after eating foods that contain gluten and some simply cannot tolerate eating foods that contain gluten at all.
The most common, and most severe, reaction is celiac disease. Other conditions that require a gluten-free diet are non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten ataxia, and wheat allergy.
Why Eat Gluten-Free? These 4 Conditions Require a Gluten-Free Diet:
1. Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects up to 1% of the population. With celiac, the body mistakes gluten for a foreign threat. In an attempt to remove the “threat,” the body overreacts and attacks the gluten proteins.
This process can lead to damaged intestines, nutrient deficiencies, anemia, severe digestive issues, and lead to an increased risk for many diseases.
Symptoms of celiac disease are sharp stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, stomach discomfort, bloating, gas, skin rashes, weight loss, anemia, fatigue, anxiety, and depression.
Unfortunately, these symptoms are also common for many other medical conditions, which makes it difficult to diagnose celiac disease at times.
If you suspect that you have celiac disease, the best thing to do is talk to your doctor. Don’t just place yourself on a gluten-free diet as you could be mistaken about your condition.
2. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
It is suspected that non-celiac gluten sensitivity affects anywhere from 0.5% to 9% of the population.
Those who are diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity won’t test positive for celiac disease or a wheat allergy; however, they can still experience many, if not all, of the same symptoms of celiac disease.
In addition to the symptoms for celiac disease, other symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity include headaches, joint and muscle pain, tingling and numbness, and brain fog.
While non-celiac gluten sensitivity does not cause any damage to the intestines, it will cause inflammation within the body, which can suppress the immune system.
3. Gluten Ataxia
Gluten ataxia is also an autoimmune disorder. It affects certain nerve tissues and causes problems with muscle control and involuntary muscle movement.
4. Wheat Allergy
Wheat allergy is the result of the immune system mistaking gluten and other proteins found in wheat for a disease-causing agent.
The immune system creates an antibody to the protein which prompts an immune response. The immune response can cause congestion, difficulty breathing, and other symptoms.
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Why Eat Gluten-Free? There Are Also Other Reasons to Consider a Gluten-Free Diet
Even if you don’t have any of the conditions above, you might still consider going gluten-free.
Gluten can be inflammatory, meaning it can cause inflammation within your digestive system. And an astonishing 80% of our immune system is housed in our digestive system.
Thus, any inflammation in the digestive system will not only suppress your immune system, but will also likely cause you to feel less than great.
For example, gluten is known to cause joint pain due to inflammation. Many people who have arthritis have reported that removing gluten from their diet has resulted in less arthritic pain.
Similarly, gluten has also been shown to have a negative effect on those with thyroid disease. Recent research has shown that a gluten-free diet can help to reduce the number of antibodies associated with autoimmune thyroid disease.
Is Gluten Bad All the Time? What Are the Risks of Eating a Gluten-Free Diet?
Gluten isn’t always fundamentally bad and there are even risks involved with eating a gluten-free diet.
There is a risk of nutritional deficiency with a gluten-free diet, especially if you have celiac disease. The possible nutritional deficiencies that are common in those with celiac disease are: fiber, iron, calcium, B12, folate, zinc, vitamins A, D, E, and K.
This is why it is highly recommended that you work with a doctor, nutritionist, or naturopath if you are adopting a gluten-free diet.
In addition, constipation is a common issue for those new to a gluten-free diet because so many foods that contain gluten are also high in fiber. You will need to eat plenty of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables on a gluten-free diet.
Why Eat Gluten-Free? The Takeaway on Adopting a Gluten-Free Diet
All of this can seem overwhelming when you are beginning to go gluten-free. Be sure to take your time and learn all that you can before you make a change. Knowledge tends to make change less stressful and anxiety-ridden.
While a gluten-free diet is restrictive, there are plenty of delicious and healthy options. Most people can enjoy a gluten-free diet without negative effects.
Lastly, be sure to be kind to yourself. You might slip up and eat something with gluten mistakenly, or you might have a bad craving and “cheat.” Either way, be kind to yourself and get back on track the next time you eat.
All included information is not intended to treat or diagnose. The views expressed are those of the author and should be attributed solely to the author. For medical questions, please consult your healthcare provider.