Gluten is a media buzz word right now and many food experts and food manufacturers recommend that you should cut down or even eliminate gluten from your diet. Gluten is the latest in a long line of food bogeymen that may or may not be bad for you – just like fat and sugar and artificial additives. But what is gluten? That’s a good question!
Gluten is a protein found in many grains such as wheat, oats, and barley. It’s what gives dough made from these grains its sticky texture. Some people have difficulty digesting gluten or gluten triggers a mild, moderate, or even severe allergic reaction when they eat something like bread or pasta made from gluten-containing grains.
The severity of this reaction can vary from mildly annoying to a serious medical problem. It all depends on just how strong your reaction to it is.
What are the symptoms of gluten intolerance?
The signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance include:
- Gas and bloating
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
- Mood swings
- Unexplainable aches and pains
- Mental fogginess and confusion
- Hormonal imbalances e.g. prolonged or severe PMS
- Difficulty losing or gaining weight
- Frequent headaches
- Cravings for baked goods
- Inexplicable dizziness or vertigo
- Chronic fatigue
- Allergies e.g. skin rashes
Not everyone experiences all of these symptoms but if you suffer from two or three of them, that suggests you have some sort of gluten issue.
Gluten intolerance vs. gluten sensitivity vs. celiac disease
When it comes to problems with gluten, there are several different terms in common use. Each one describes the severity of your response to gluten.
Gluten sensitivity is the mildest response to gluten and some people suffer this condition without realizing they have a problem. Bouts of gas after eating a lot of bread or pasta are common, as are other digestive upsets. Sufferers simply “don’t feel 100%” but are seldom so unwell that they do anything about it. They may, however notice an increase in symptom severity after a “gluten bender” during which they eat a lot of high gluten food e.g. a meal of bread, pasta, and baked dessert.
Gluten intolerance is a little more serious and describes an autoimmune response to gluten. This is a sort of mild allergic reaction. Like people suffering from gluten sensitivity, many people go undiagnosed although the symptoms of gluten intolerance are usually more severe.
Celiac disease sufferers experience a severe autoimmune reaction to gluten which can lead to damage to the digestive tract. This is a serious medical problem that usually needs medical intervention and a very strict ongoing diet.
Gluten sensitivity test
So, how do you establish whether you have issues with gluten? While there are blood tests available, the easiest way is to embark on an elimination diet. That means no cookies, bread, pasta, cereals, beer, or any other gluten containing food. Before you start, make a careful note of all symptoms you have and then stop eating gluten for at least 30 days.
At the end of that 30-day period, recheck your symptoms and see if there are any changes. If you notice that many or even all your previous symptoms disappear, you have issues with gluten. You can double-check your findings by reintroducing gluten into your diet. After going gluten free for so long, you’ll soon know if you have issues with gluten if your symptoms quickly return.
Bottom line: If you feel better after eliminating gluten from your diet, you should avoid gluten in the future. Not sure what to eat and what you can’t?
What percentage of Americans suffer from issues with gluten?
The number of people who suffer from issues with gluten is on the rise. It is estimated that 6-7 percent of the American population has a mild to moderate issue with gluten, and one percent has fully-blown celiac disease. These figures have climbed steeply over the last two decades when both gluten intolerance and celiac disease were rarer.
Gluten-related health issues are on the rise. Because of this, it might be a good idea to eliminate gluten from your diet for 30 days to see if you are one of the growing number of people who have a problem with this sticky protein substance.