Gluten has become a rather hot topic and the subject of debate in recent years. Many people, myself included, never knew for sure what gluten even was until recently.
What is gluten?
Gluten is the protein found in grains. All grains contain gluten, but most people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity only have a reaction to the form that is found in wheat and other wheat varieties such as barley, rye, and spelt. Some people who have allergic reactions to wheat find that they can eat spelt with no reaction at all. Though this may be the case for some, spelt does contain gluten, making it unsafe for those who have celiac disease to ingest.
Where is gluten found?
The most obvious answer is wheat, but did you know that it can be found in other grains? Cross-contamination is a way that gluten can be unknowingly be ingested, making foods made from wheat the bigger threat but certainly not the only culprit. In other words, not only is a piece of
wheat bread a threat, but a bowl of oatmeal may be also. Oats that are grown alongside fields of wheat can become contaminated. Most grains share equipment when being harvested and processed, resulting in leftover wheat particles contaminating an otherwise safe grain.
In addition, wheat flour can remain airborne for hours, resulting in the contamination of any uncovered food as well as beverages, utensils, and countertop surfaces.
Why is gluten bad for some people's health?
In the case of celiac disease, gluten causes an immune response which creates toxins that destroy the villi in the small intestines. When they become damaged, the body is unable to absorb nutrients from food, leading to malnutrition and other serious health complications like iron deficiency, osteoporosis, and cancer.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) has received a lot of attention recently, though it is poorly understood. NCGS symptoms are similar to those of celiac disease, but it is not an autoimmune disorder and is not genetic. When a person with NCGS eats gluten it will cause symptoms like those of celiac disease but will cause no damage to the small intestine. These symptoms include, but are not limited to:
-Gas and bloating
When someone who has a wheat allergy consumes wheat, their symptoms may start within a few minutes and can include:
-Irritation of the eyes
Going gluten-free is something that can really improve the health of someone who has gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy or celiac disease. At the same time, entirely cutting gluten out of your diet can be a lot of hard work, and the health benefits of wheat for people without gluten sensitivity or celiac disease should not be overlooked. If you suspect that you may have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or a wheat allergy, the best thing you can do is see your doctor.
A physical examination and a look at your medical history are the first things that your doctor may do to start to confirm whether you have celiac disease. These include a range of blood tests to check for antibodies. A skin biopsy can be performed to help diagnose celiac disease. An upper endoscopy can be done if a skin biopsy and blood tests render an inconclusive result.
When an upper endoscopy is done, a thin tube with a small camera attached is threaded down through the mouth and into the small intestine where the doctor will check for damaged villi. The doctor may also perform an intestinal biopsy to remove small tissue samples of the small intestine to be analyzed for any damage or abnormalities.
Ultimately it is up to your doctor to decide how to go about the process of elimination to figure out what the problem is.
So, is wheat really that bad?
Well, the answer for some people is yes. Wheat is a huge problem for them, causing pain and debilitating problems in some cases. For others, the gluten-free diet is more of a fun experiment. And why not? There are tons of delicious gluten-free options to choose from nowadays, making the gluten-free lifestyle less of a burden for some and more of an enjoyable option for others!