Top 5 Questions About Gluten Answered

Holli Lapes, RD, LD/N

In recent years, going gluten free has become trendy and is even used as a marketing tactic in the food industry.

When people see gluten free on a label, assumptions are often made. One may say to themselves “Well, if this is gluten free, then gluten must be bad.” Or, maybe all of their friends at the gym are going gluten free.

While it is true that gluten could just be another buzz word in some contexts, there are certainly valid health reasons to avoid gluten other than having celiac disease.

What Is Gluten?

Gluten is a mixture of proteins that act as a binding agent, helping foods to maintain their shape and contributing to the texture that we all know and love.

As the Latin translation indicates, gluten is the “glue” that gives your bagel just the right balance of stickiness and elasticity.1

Gluten is Found in Wheat, Right?

Despite the common misconception, gluten and wheat are not synonymous terms. Gluten-containing grains include wheat, rye, barley, malt, spelt and kamut.2,3

Also, there could be some cross contamination with other grains such as oats unless otherwise marked as gluten free.

Is Gluten Bad?

People avoid gluten for a variety of reasons. In the past, those who have fully avoided gluten-containing food and drink have done so because of celiac disease. Characterized by an autoimmune response (not an allergy), celiac disease patients experience destruction of the microvilli in the small intestine when gluten is consumed.4

Since the microvilli are essential for nutrient absorption, this can lead to problematic vitamin and mineral deficiencies and an array of adverse health effects that are both digestion and non-digestion related.5,6 There are also other instances where gluten would be considered bad for someone (below).

I Don’t Have Celiac Disease, Should I Avoid Gluten?

One of the main reasons people should avoid gluten, other than if they have celiac disease, is if they have gluten sensitivity. People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) may or may not have to avoid gluten for the rest of their life, depending on various factors, while those with celiac disease must follow a strict lifetime avoidance of gluten.

Do you have unexplained fatigue and mental cloudiness, a.k.a. “brain fog”? It might be due to gluten sensitivity. Other symptoms include weight gain, abdominal discomfort, skin and digestive issues.7 A non-allergic delayed immune response characterized by IgG antibodies to wheat, gluten, or gliadin may be present in people with NCGS who take a food sensitivity blood test.8

Whether or not someone who suspects a gluten sensitivity has these biomarkers, one way to find out if gluten is the culprit is to just avoid gluten and see if you feel better! Currently, the gold standard test is double-blind challenge with gluten-containing food.8,9 Individuals with NCGS may also benefit from following the FODMAP diet.9,10

Other reasons one might end up avoiding gluten: leaky gut, wheat allergy, existing autoimmune condition, ketogenic diet, paleo diet.

What Are the Downfalls of Avoiding Gluten?

Compliance to a gluten-free diet can be very challenging, especially for people who follow certain lifestyles that include eating out often. Gluten is hidden in a variety of packaged and processed foods.

People who suffer from celiac disease must comply, because even the smallest quantities (parts per billion) can cause distress. In comparison, their gluten-sensitive counterparts may not be as compliant because the consequences, while uncomfortable, may not be as severe.

When it comes to nutrient deficiencies, for those with NCGS wherein intestinal absorption is not impaired (no villus atrophy) the issue stems from the consumption of non-fortified gluten-free foods.11,12 One common deficiency related to this is lack of B-vitamins.11,13 Simply taking a high potency B-complex would help ensure an adequate B vitamin intake!

Ok, so are you ready to go gluten free?

Check back on the blog tomorrow for tips and strategies to successfully live a gluten-free lifestyle!

References:

  1. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12058979. Accessed August 2, 2016.
  2. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3912561/. Accessed August 2, 2016.
  3.  Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257612/. Accessed August 2, 2016.
  4. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3292448/. Accessed August 2, 2016.
  5. Available at: http://samples.jbpub.com/9781284021165/9781449649241_CH03_Insel_4886_1.pdf. Accessed August 2, 2016.
  6. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3912561/#R1. Accessed August 2, 2016.
  7. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23934026. Accessed August 2, 2016.
  8.  Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22825366. Accessed August 2, 2016.
  9. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4003198/. Accessed August 2, 2016.
  10.  Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25837529. Accessed August 2, 2016.
  11.  Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23198728. Accessed August 2, 2016.
  12.  Available at: http://gastro.ucla.edu/site.cfm?id=462 Accessed August 2, 2016.
  13. Available at: https://www.gluten.org/resources/diet-nutrition/nutrient-deficiencies/ Accessed August 2, 2016.

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