You might ask yourself, “Should I be on a gluten-free diet?” But what exactly is it? Above all, should you be avoiding it? Should you be on a gluten-free diet? Lastly, is a gluten-free diet healthy?
Gluten is a type of protein found in many grains like wheat, rye, and barley. It’s responsible for the sticky glue-like consistency you get when flour is mixed with water. It’s commonly found in bread (and baked goods), pasta, cereals, beer, and other products made from these grains. And gluten-containing flours are added to a lot of processed foods too.
Contrary to older belief systems, gluten is not an essential nutrient. You can have a healthy, nutrient-rich diet without it. In fact, there are many foods available now that are “gluten-free.” Being gluten-free is popular, and many practitioners now recommend that everyone avoid gluten. But, as with most “diets,” gluten-free is not guaranteed to be necessary or healthier (gluten-free cookies are still cookies!).
So should you be on a gluten-free diet? Is it just a fad? Let’s talk about who should avoid gluten. In addition, the signs and symptoms to look for to see if you might be sensitive to it too. Then there are a few points to consider before jumping on the “gluten-free bandwagon.”
WHO SHOULD AVOID GLUTEN?
Some people will be very sensitive to gluten and should avoid it altogether. If you have celiac disease, you definitely should avoid all traces of it. Celiac disease is a medical condition that is diagnosable with tests from your doctor. About 1% of adults have been diagnosed with celiac disease. However, it’s estimated that up to 80% of people who have it don’t even know it yet (that would jump to 5% of adults with celiac disease).
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition. After eating even a trace of gluten, the immune system attacks it as a foreign invader. Subsequently, this will result in inflammation and severe damage to the gut lining. Some of the digestive symptoms include bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. Other symptoms of celiac disease include headache, fatigue, and skin rashes.
Long term effects of eating gluten, if you have celiac disease, are serious, including:
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Nerve damage and,
In case you haven’t followed my story, then you should know that I was diagnosed with celiac disease years ago. Read more about my story here.
Should You Be on a Gluten-Free Diet?
Celiac disease aside, there are also people who have a wheat allergy or are sensitive to gluten. Wheat allergies can be diagnosed by your doctor, as well. “Non-celiac gluten sensitivity” occurs when people react to gluten, without celiac disease or wheat allergy. It’s estimated that up to 13% of people have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This is way more than 1-5% who have celiac disease.
There are many common signs of gluten sensitivity. So, the problem is that they’re not very specific. It will not necessarily occur immediately after eating it. Symptoms are not always located in the gut.
Symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity include:
- Digestive issues (bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, and stomach pain)
- Skin issues (eczema and redness)
- Bone and joint pain
- Fatigue and chronic tiredness
- Other symptoms like headache and mood issues
BEFORE GOING GLUTEN-FREE, REMEMBER
If you suspect you should avoid gluten, check with your doctor first. The tests for celiac disease are more accurate if you’re still eating gluten. You can also get tested for a wheat allergy or sensitivity.
Some gluten-containing foods have nutrition that you’re going to have to get elsewhere (not from those cookies, though). If you are craving cookies, try my gluten-free peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.
● Folate/folic acid (vitamin B9). Many types of bread and cereals are fortified with this vitamin. To get it naturally, make sure you’re eating plenty of leafy greens. In addition, if you’re planning to get, or are pregnant, talk to your healthcare professional about this critical nutrient.
● Dietary fiber. Whole wheat is a major source of this all-too-important and often forgotten nutrient. High-fiber gluten-free foods include brown rice, quinoa, flax seeds, chia seeds, beans/legumes, and fruits and veggies.
Importantly, remember, if you think you may be sensitive to gluten, then talk with your doctor about getting tested for celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergy. In short, if you’re going gluten-free, choose nutrient-dense whole foods. Not gluten-free processed junk foods, to make sure you get all the nutrition you need.
I would love to hear if any of you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Let me know how these tips helped to educate you on gluten. You can also connect with me @Eat_Your_Nutrition on Instagram. I love seeing your photos. #EatYourNutrition #LauraVillanueva