Is Gluten Making You Sick?

Author: Linda DiBella

Is your diet heavy in breads, pastas, and baked goods?  If so, and you’re suffering from digestive problems, they may be the cause.  These days, we hear more and more about gluten and how it is wreaking havoc on the health of so many people.  In addition, there are millions of people who have gone undiagnosed with sensitivities or intolerances to gluten and who suffer because of them.

Gluten is a pair of associated proteins in grains such as wheat, rye, barley, spelt and kamut that gives foods an elastic texture.  When someone carries a genetic variant of the gene for celiac disease (CD, HLA DQ2 or HLA DQ8), they are more susceptible to the health problems associated with eating gluten.  For starters, gluten triggers an autoimmune response that over time, destroys the lining of the intestine.  This damage then prevents the intestines from absorbing nutrients from food.

But the effects in the body are not limited to the gut.  The autoimmune reaction initiated by gluten also creates systemic inflammation within the body.  In fact, the New England Journal of Medicine published a review indicating that eating gluten can cause over 50 diseases, including osteoporosis, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases.  Even migraine headaches can be triggered by gluten.  It makes you wonder whether eating bread and pasta is worth the price to pay!

People with gluten sensitivity may suffer similar symptoms, but may not show positive results in a blood test for CD.  Therefore, the best way to determine if gluten is causing health problems is to follow an elimination diet for several weeks and see if the symptoms subside.

Here is a list of foods to avoid if you know or suspect that you are sensitive or intolerant to gluten.  What you may be surprised to find by scanning through this list is how many foods actually contain gluten.  For example, soy sauce contains wheat but a wheat-free alternative is tamari.  Depending on where they’re made, hydrolyzed vegetable protein or starch, miso, natural flavorings, caramel color, dextrin, and artificial color may need to be eliminated too.  To truly avoid all sources of gluten, it takes a lot of detective work.

Eliminating gluten doesn’t have to mean that the days of eating baked goods or pasta are over.  There are a number of flours made with non-gluten-containing grains that can be used as substitutes.  Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free flour is made with a combination of flours and starches from garbanzo bean, potato, tapioca, white sorghum, and fava beans.   For baking, a small amount of xanthan gum is added to the mixture.  Additional flours include buckwheat, coconut flour, and nut flours such as almond.

Pastas are available that are made from rice, quinoa, mung beans and potato.   It’s simply a matter of finding them in your local area or over the internet.  Amazon.com actually has a gluten-free store online where you can find flours, baking mixes, and pasta.  A word of caution though:  Just because something is gluten-free does not necessarily mean it’s healthy.  A highly-processed, gluten-free product is still processed.  Overall, the best and healthiest way to lead a life free from gluten is to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, clean sources of protein, healthy fats, and gluten-free grains.

Here is a recipe for pancakes using Bob’s Red Mill flour and xanthan gum.  It’s a recipe that was simply converted by switching the flour and the results are amazing.

For a healthy flour-free “pasta”, use a vegetable peeler to shave long strips of raw zucchini.  Toss with a light dressing then top with your favorite sauce, vegetables, grain or legumes.  Here’s an easy warm chickpea salad over zucchini pasta that’s light and tasty.

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