Gluten has become a controversial word in the media lately. You often hear people touting the benefits of going completely gluten free. You can find countless gluten-free recipes on the Internet, gluten-free cookbooks in bookstores, and people who claim to have conquered a slew of health issues by going gluten free. This doesn’t even get into the health experts who claim giving up gluten can lead to weight loss. It sounds as if giving up gluten is the Holy Grail of diet tips when you get down to all the pros who are jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon.
It’s to the point that if you have a dinner party, you have to take a head count as to how many people are gluten free, vegan, vegetarian or just plain nuts about food. Who wants to suffer through that difficulty of menu planning? Unless you have a true allergy or a gluten-based disease, such as celiac, is gluten really that bad for you?
What Is Gluten?
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, gluten is the term for the overall classification of the proteins in wheat-based products or ingredients, which are mostly found in wheat, barley and rye. Those are considered the “big three” of the gluten family of foods. But when you read the ingredients on packaged foods, you’ll find that some form of gluten is in almost everything, including cereals, salad dressings and even random substances like food coloring. Avoiding gluten in all forms is like getting a full-time job in awareness.
Sensitivity or a True Allergy — That’s the Real Question
If you’re truly allergic to gluten, you can see an allergist or another physician. You might have some symptoms of the problem, or you may have full-blown celiac disease, which is a serious autoimmune disorder in which gluten in any form causes damage to your intestines.
Worldwide, celiac disease is estimated to affect one in 100 people; in the United States, the number is around 2.5 million. To put that into perspective, lupus, which is another autoimmune disorder, affects some 1.5 million Americans. Diabetes, another common disease, affects approximately 29 million Americans, according to the CDC.
Celiac is diagnosed with blood tests and possibly a biopsy through an endoscopy of your small intestine. Not all people who are sensitive to gluten have celiac disease. Talk to your doctor about your specific symptoms to see if you want to be tested.
Some of the Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity
Gluten intolerance can result in around 300 symptoms, reports The Celiac Foundation, including:
· Stomach bloating
· Chronic diarrhea
· Weight loss
· Joint pain
Depression comes into play, since it can take a toll on your mental health if you physically don’t feel well. So, if you have some of these symptoms on either a major or minor scale, decide what you want to do about it. Be your own health hero; it can’t be stated often enough. You only get one body in your lifetime, so you should take care of it the best you can.
The only way to treat true gluten sensitivity is to eliminate gluten completely from your diet. If you are experiencing some of these distressing symptoms, it may be helpful to visit a gastroenterologist to discover exactly what is giving you “tummy issues.”
Alfred Nobel once said that “worry is the stomach’s worst poison,” which means that if you don’t understand the issues that are going on with your body and how to solve them, it can create considerable distress.
Somewhere in the Middle
If you feel as though you have a mild sensitivity to gluten, it might help to look at all parts of your diet. It could easily be a variety of other foods such as dairy or the overall nutrient content of the foods you choose. Dr. Nandi advises that you eat a diet rich in whole foods that will fuel your body in the best way possible. If you are able to be your own health hero, then part of your lifestyle is to educate yourself on what works for your body.
In summary, gluten on its own isn’t inherently bad for you. Think of the whole grains and fiber you get in a batch of unprocessed 100 percent whole wheat bread, which is much better for you than the empty carbs in processed white bread. Talk to your doctor about whether you need to change your diet before you start eliminating gluten.
Partha Nandi M.D., F.A.C.P is the creator and host of the internationally syndicated medical lifestyle television show, Ask Dr. Nandi. Dr. Nandi delivers passionate and inspiring talks to empower the world in his mission, “To Be Your Own Health Hero.”