Gluten-Free (GF) is necessary for anyone with Celiac Disease. Yet more than ever, we are seeing non-celiac disease individuals opting for a GF lifestyle. With the rise of GF items at grocery stores astronomically more expensive than their non-GF counterparts, this has raised questions. Are there any benefits to a GF lifestyle? Or is avoiding gluten the latest diet trend?

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What is Gluten?

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, Gluten is the name for a group of proteins most commonly found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale – a hybrid between wheat and rye. Gluten is a Latin word that stands for the word: glue. The two main components of the gluten portion of wheat are gliadin and glutenin. Gliadin is the water-insoluble (unable to be dissolved in water) component of gluten. Gliadins are what gives bread the ability to rise while baking. This gluten is found in products such as wheat flour. Glutenin is water-soluble (able to be dissolved in water) that gives dough strength and elasticity. Together, gluten proteins play a key role in the baking quality of wheat by providing flour with a high-water absorption capacity. When you knead the flour with water, the gluten gives the dough a cohesivity, viscoelastic mass that provides, for example, bread its structure and chewiness.

Common Grains that have Gluten:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Triticale — a cross between wheat and rye
  • Oats – While oats are naturally GF, it is possible for them to be exposed to Gluten during production with other grains that have gluten. If you are looking for GF oats, make sure it is labeled as certified gluten-free.

Some foods that contain gluten that may not be as obvious:

  • Soy Sauce: Wheat is the primary ingredient in standard soy sauce. A good alternative for soy sauce is Coconut Aminos that is not only GF but much lower in salt.
  • Beer: It is typically made from malted barley and hops.
  • Processed Lunch Meats: Lunch meat such as deli meats may have gluten due to its potential gluten contamination with slicers, knives, etc. that is in contact with gluten-containing foods.
  • Dressings: If a dressing has wheat, barley, rye, (wheat) after an ingredient, then it contains gluten. Ingredients such as artificial color, dextrin, soy sauce, food starch, malt, malt vinegar may contain gluten.
  • Krab: Imitation crab meat contain wheat

Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by consuming foods containing gluten. Celiac Disease was first identified in the early 1900s. It wasn’t until about 1953 when scientists Dicke, Weijers, and Van de Kamer identified Gluten as the culprit. It is estimated that Celiac affects 1 in 133 people and about 3 million Americans are diagnosed with Celiac Disease. When a person with celiac disease consumes foods with gluten, the immune system begins to attack it. As a result, gluten destroys the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, which then leaves the intestines with no fibers to absorb nutrients, resulting in malnourishment. Regular and ongoing intake of gluten for individuals with celiac disease can lead to serious irreversible health consequences such as osteoporosis, skin rashes, nervous system problems, infertility, anemia, and more. Individuals with Celiac Disease need to eliminate gluten altogether from their diet and ensure that the food they are consuming has not been cross-contaminated with gluten-containing ingredients during production or preparation. A strict lifelong gluten-free diet is the only as of the only treatment for individuals with celiac disease as there is no medication or surgical intervention that cures the celiac disease.

Gluten Sensitivity

Celiac Disease is not the only issue with Gluten. Many individuals suffer from gluten sensitivity or allergies. One gluten-related condition is a wheat allergy. Wheat allergic reactions occur when someone allergic to wheat eats anything with wheat or even when inhaling wheat flour. Unlike celiac disease, wheat allergy occurs when you produce antibodies to proteins found in wheat. This is a different reaction than that of Celiac Disease. Symptoms usually occur within minutes of consuming anything with wheat and may include swelling of the throat, hives, nasal congestion, difficulty breathing, cramps, nausea, and in some cases a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.

Another type of gluten reaction is non-celiac gluten sensitivities. GI symptoms include bloating, diarrhea, constipation. Extraintestinal symptoms vary but include joint pain, brain fog, anemia, depression, eczema, and more. Gluten sensitivities are commonly due to an intolerance to eating FODMAPs. FODMAPs stands for Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, & Polyols which together are a group of sugars that your body is unable to digest or absorb in our intestines. This means that when FODMAPs are consumed, they move very slowly, attracting water as it goes, and ultimately gut bacteria ferments undigested carbohydrates resulting in gas and abdominal discomfort. Let’s look at common foods that make up FODMAPs

  • Oligosaccharides: includes fructans and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). The human body cannot produce the enzymes needed to break the sugars down into single sugars, so these foods move through the gut unabsorbed. In IBS patients, these foods result in bloating, altered motility, and abdominal discomfort. Found in foods such as wheat, rye, garlic, legumes, and onions.
  • Disaccharides: 3 major disaccharides are sucrose, lactose, and maltose. Sucrose is found in table sugar, manufactured foods such as cakes, cookies. Lactose is found in dairy products such as milk, yogurt, sour cream, and other milk products such as frozen yogurts, ice cream, and more. Maltose is found in malt extract, molasses, beer, breads, bagels, cereals, and more.
  • Monosaccharides: Found in foods with fructose such as dried fruits, fruit jams, cereals with fruits, canned fruits, honey, and more.
  • Polyols: Sugar alcohols. Naturally occurring in certain fruits but most commonly found in sugar-free sweeteners or products.

How wheat is cultivated today

Earliest archeological findings of wheat date back to over 12,000 years ago. If wheat has been around so long, then why is this such an issue today? Quite frankly, wheat is just not grown and harvested the same way. Traditionally, farmers would harvest wheat through the process of winnowing. Winnowing involves harvesting wheat by hand using an instrument known as a sickle.  After, stalks would undergo “trashing” that loosens the grains from the stalks by beating the stalks. Grain is then thrown in the wind to blow the chaff dividing it from the grain. Modern wheat found today is not the same wheat that was found 60 years ago due to processes such as bleaching, stripping, and more. 

Diagnosed gluten-related diseases are rare conditions, affecting less than 1% of the population in the United States. Yet the consumption and availability of gluten-free foods have significantly increased. I recall a time when most people had never heard of “gluten” let alone “celiac disease”. Gluten-free bread usually has about 20 ingredients and a complex production method. When you compare regular sliced bread that is about $2 to common GF brands that range about $6 a loaf, this leaves my patients wondering if a GF diet is worth the high price. It’s important to note that you do not need to rely on heavily processed foods to stay gluten-free. A diet made up of whole foods will usually be gluten-free as these are foods that are not processed. 

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is not intended as medical or healthcare information or advice. Please consult your healthcare professional(s) regarding all matters related to your diet and health.

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