I was inspired to write this article by a recent facebook status suggesting going gluten free is just another crazy diet fad. Yes, it’s true that not everyone is a Celiac (gluten intolerant, or physically unable break down gluten). However, 1 in 100 are Celiac and 1 in 10 have a wheat (or gluten) sensitivity.
Sensitivities are less obvious and severe than allergies and can go undiagnosed for a very long time. While an allergy will create an immediate reaction in the body, a sensitivity causes a more subtle immune reaction, meaning that your body is essentially attacking a “foreign invader”. Long-term exposure to food sensitivities can wreak havoc in the body, creating inflammation, irritable bowels (constipation & diarrhea), imbalanced intestinal flora, and the vicious cycle can continue, potentially leading to additional sensitivities.
As speculated by many health practitioners, including myself, the widespread prevalence of gluten sensitivities is primarily a result of the western diet. In most western countries, the same food groups are eaten at essentially every meal: gluten and dairy (which is why dairy is another common sensitivity). A common, albeit simplified, western diet looks something like this: Cheerios and milk for breakfast, a sandwich with cheese for lunch, and lasagna for dinner…that is variety, right? Not so much! The main issue with this is that our bodies are not adapted to eating so much of the same food, let alone something like gluten, which is highly congesting to the intestinal tract (ever made paper maché? Water and white flour are as sticky as glue!).
So what is gluten anyway?
Gluten is the main protein in wheat, but is also found in a variety of other grains, such as:
- Oats (if they have been processed in the same facilities as gluten containing grains)
Gluten free grains are:
- Uncontaminated oats
The good news is that being sensitive to a food does not mean you can never eat it again. Rather it means you should have it no more than one serving every 4 days.
So how can you find out if you’re gluten sensitive or Celiac? To test for an intolerance, you can get a Celiac screening at your family doctor (and then a biopsy of the small intestine if the screening is positive). If you are Celiac strict avoidance of gluten is permanent. However, this screening will not tell you if you have a sensitivity. To test for this (IgG antibodies), you can see a Naturopathic Doctor, or eliminate all common allergens for 4 to 6 weeks, the reintroduce them one at a time (one food every 4 days) and see how your body reacts to each.
One thing about eating gluten free that really bothers me is that not all gluten free foods are healthy! There are so many pre-packaged gluten free foods found at so-called “health food” stores that are loaded with sugar, refined flour and other marginal ingredients, making them just as unhealthy as pre-packaged gluten containing foods. It is always best to avoid refined sugars and grains and to use whole grains instead (i.e. how they come from the earth!).
Lastly, as a testament to the legitimacy of the gluten free movement, nearly every client of mine who has successfully gone gluten free for 4 weeks or more has felt better (myself included, it literally changed my life). They usually have increased energy, better bowel movements, less bloating/gas, etc. Is this not reason enough to try it yourself? If you feel so strongly that this is just a trend, I dare you to try it, for a full 4-6 weeks (it takes that long to clean out your digestive tract) and to see if you feel (and/or look) any different! Perhaps then if you do not wish to eliminate it altogether, you might see the benefit in eating a reduced gluten diet.
Okay, just one more thing, it is important to note if you are trying to get pregnant and have been unsuccessful, eliminating common allergens such as gluten could be the missing link (more tips here). I also have clients who have tried this strategy with success!