Just how bad is gluten? Celiac disease is caused by gluten. Gluten refers to the proteins in cereal grains, such as wheat, barley and rye. Gluten is found in the endosperm (a type of tissue produced in seeds that are ground to make flour) and nourishes plant embryos during germination. Later on, gluten affects the elasticity of dough, acting as a glue to hold the food together, which in turn affects the chewiness of baked products.
Gluten is a mixture of hundreds of distinct proteins within the same family, although it is primarily made up of two different classes of proteins: gliadin, which gives bread the ability to rise during baking, and glutenin, which is responsible for dough’s elasticity.
Not all grains contain gluten
Some examples of gluten-free grains are – Sorghum, millet, brown rice, buckwheat, wild rice, amaranth, quinoa, corn (polenta) and teff. Oats are also gluten-free, but can be contaminated during processing, said Lori Chong, a registered dietitian.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disease that occurs in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide. Two and one-half million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications.
When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.
Celiac disease is hereditary, meaning that it runs in families. People with a first-degree relative with celiac disease (parent, child, sibling) have a 1 in 10 risk of developing celiac disease.
Celiac disease can develop at any age after people start eating foods or medicines that contain gluten. Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to additional serious health problems.
How bad is gluten bad?
Gluten is only bad for certain people. These people are gluten-sensitive or gluten-intolerant, which means their bodies produce an abnormal immune response when breaking down gluten during digestion. About 18 million Americans have gluten sensitivity, according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.
The most well-known form of gluten intolerance is celiac disease, which affects one in every 141 people in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. When someone with celiac disease consumes gluten, it triggers an immune response that damages their intestines, preventing them from absorbing vital nutrients.
The chronic gastrointestinal disorder called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is another condition that is affected by gluten. IBS affects 7 to 20 percent of adults in the United States, gluten grains are high in starches and sugars that can be easily fermented by intestinal bacteria. This can cause bloating, cramping and/or diarrhea.
Wheat allergy is a rare type of allergy that is marked by skin, respiratory or gastrointestinal reactions to wheat allergens, but is not necessarily caused by gluten. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, 65 percent of children with a wheat allergy outgrow it by age 12.
The effects of going gluten-free
In cases of gluten intolerance, doctors typically recommend a gluten-free diet. Patients must avoid eating any foods and ingredients that contains gluten, including bread, beer, French fries, pasta, salad dressing, soy sauce and even some soups (unless otherwise marked as “gluten-free”). According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, food products must contain less than 20 ppm of gluten in order to be labeled gluten-free.
In recent years, many people without gluten intolerance have taken up gluten-free diets. Experts worry, however, that going on these diets without explicitly needing to could be detrimental to a person’s health, as gluten-free foods are often nutrient-deficient. Going gluten-free can affect the body in many ways.
First, it can affect weight loss. Food restrictions associated with a gluten-free lifestyle can help some lose weight, especially when starches are replaced by healthier options, like quinoa, which doesn’t contain gluten. But it can also backfire – consumption of too much “healthier” gluten-free food can cause weight gain. Food manufacturers often include additional fat or sugar to make gluten-free products tastier, increasing the product’s calorie count and sometimes deceiving those using the diet to control their waistline.
Second, going gluten-free can cause nutrient deficiencies. Many whole grains are rich in vitamins and minerals, like vitamins B and D, iron and fiber. Whether you need to be gluten-free as prescribed by a doctor, or you are choosing to cut back for personal reasons, a gluten-free diet is doable if followed carefully.
Third, some research suggests that a gluten-free diet may also affect cognitive function. Because gluten and carbs go hand-in-hand, going gluten-free can also mean cutting carb One study, which has generated a lot of discussion, suggests that elevated blood sugar levels may negatively impact brain structure and has been linked to cognitive decline and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, studies suggest that high carbohydrate intake is linked to elevated blood glucose levels and inflammation, as well. So, cutting gluten and carbs from your personal menu can support cognition as you age. However, more research must be done to truly understand the impact of gluten on your brain.
Fourth, going gluten-free can improve digestion, reducing bloating and diarrhea, among other symptoms, that are often associated with the sensitivity. Improved digestion associated with a gluten-free lifestyle may also relieve symptoms associated with other intestinal disorders like lactose intolerance.
A gluten intolerance is the body’s inability to digest or break down the gluten protein found in wheat and certain other grains. Also known as a gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance can range from a mild sensitivity to gluten to full-blown celiac disease.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, about 1 out of every 141 Americans has celiac disease. This is a severe autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten consumption that leads to damage in the small intestine.
Common foods that regularly contain ingredients with gluten includes – Pastas, breads, crackers, seasonings and spice mixes
Foods to avoid
Wheat is one of the main staples of a Western diet and is public enemy No. 1 for those with a gluten intolerance.
In addition to pure wheat, all of its forms are also off-limits. This includes – Wheat starch, wheat bran, wheat germ, couscous, cracked wheat, durum, einkorn, emmer, farina, faro, fu (common in Asian foods), gliadin, graham flour, kamut, matzo, semolina, spelt.
Foods without gluten
The list of off-limit items may seem daunting at first. Thankfully, there are plenty of replacements on the menu. Lots of foods are naturally gluten-free, including – fruits and vegetables, beans, seeds, legumes, nuts, potatoes, eggs, dairy products, oils and vinegars, corn, rice, fish, lean beef, chicken, seafood.
Eating at restaurants can be particularly challenging if you have a gluten intolerance, but this doesn’t mean you can’t ever dine out.
You should be able to dodge the gluten bullet if you stick with the same types of items you eat at home, such as grilled meats and steamed vegetables.
Foods to avoid in restaurants include fried foods, certain sauces, or anything that has been fried in the same pan with a gluten-containing food.
If you have celiac disease, being gluten-free is essential for your health. A gluten-free diet may seem too challenging to deal with, but with time — and a bit of effort — it can become second nature.
If you can, start off gradually, so you can get used to going gluten-free. For example, you might try one completely gluten-free meal per day and gradually add more meals until gluten is completely out of your diet.
Also, a gluten-free diet is easier if you shop at stores and eat at restaurants that cater to your dietary needs.
If you want to guarantee that your food is gluten-free, cooking from scratch is the easiest way to avoid gluten. Discuss any specific dietary considerations with a doctor or dietitian.