Gluten Free Guide
What is gluten and why should you care?
Gluten is a protein molecule found in wheat, barley, rye and some other grains. Intolerance to gluten is on the rise in the US, in part due to how gluten-containing grains are grown these days. The gluten we eat today is not the same as that our grandmothers ate. Farmers and agricultural companies began to breed plants for higher and higher protein yields. This was a good goal – they wanted to be able to yield more protein per hectare, getting more nutrition for more people. An unintended consequence of this practice was that the nature of the gluten molecule began to change.
Most protein molecules are straight, like a pencil. When we eat these proteins, they are easily worked on by our digestive enzymes and readily broken up into teeny, tiny pieces – optimal for digestion and absorption. The gluten protein, on the other hand, is snarled up like a rat’s nest, making it very difficult for our enzymes systems to break it down into tiny pieces. When large, unbroken molecules hit our small intestine – which likes everything teeny, tiny – we can experience gas, bloating and indigestion.
These unbroken particles are also highly inflammatory, in some cases invoking an immune response and irritating the body. As gluten is being broken down, it binds to the opiod receptors in our gut. Opiods are highly addictive substances like morphine, heroin, hydrocodone, etc…and gluten binds to these same receptors, helping us become addicted to it.
In the small intestine, gluten is capable of another not-s0-beneficial thing. The cells that line the small intestine are only one cell layer thick, standing shoulder to shoulder like a row of soldiers. In between the cells is a structure called a desmosome. Desmosomes act like buttons, buttoning the cells together. Gluten can unbutton these desmosomes, creating something called leaky gut. Leaky gut can be problematic for a lot of reasons, and you can read more about it here.
Many gluten-containing grains also carry with them a type of starch called amylopectin A. This carbohydrate has been named a “super starch” for its extra-fattening characteristics and the ability to readily create insulin resistance.
Gluten can create a lot of symptoms in the body, and not just limited to the gastrointestinal system! Acne, headaches, migraine, rash, eczema, muscle and joint pain, fatigue, neuropathy, brain fog, inability to lose weight, gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, iron deficiency anemia, issues with sleep or mood, depression, anxiety, mania, PMS, infertility, thyroid issues and autoimmune disease can all be contributed to or created by gluten.
Then, of course, there is Celiac disease. Celiac disease is a genetic, autoimmune condition whereby the immune system destroys the lining of the small intestine, creating many of the symptoms listed above, plus some more due to malabsorption. Rates of Celiac disease are estimated to be between 1 in 144 and 1 in 100 people – this is a lot. More people have Celiac disease than all of the other autoimmune conditions combined. The cure for Celiac disease is a lifelong avoidance of gluten
There is another significant population who, despite not having Celiac disease, are intolerant to gluten. Symptoms get better when gluten is cut out, and return when gluten is introduced back into the diet. This is called non-Celiac gluten intolerance.
If you eat gluten regularly and are experiencing symptoms or have a diagnosed digestive or autoimmune disorder, you may want to consider a trial elimination for gluten for a few weeks to see how you feel and if symptoms change.
This guide will help you get started.
Foods and substances containing gluten
Grains to Avoid
-Wheat (including wheat germ, wheat bran and sprouted wheat)
-Rye (including sprouted rye, rye crackers, etc)
-Barley (including sprouted barley and barley malt)
Foods Containing Gluten ? to be avoided, always read labels!
-Soy sauce ? check the label, is often made with wheat
-Beer (unless it says gluten-free; many microbreweries now offer gluten-free selections)
– Bread, Breading, Breading mixes, Baked goods
-Seitan (this is straight up gluten)
-Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
-Texturized Vegetable Protein
-Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
-Marinades – read label!
-Processed Meats ? read label!
-Rice Dream (contains barley)
-Soup Bases/Broths/Bullion ? read label
-Imitation meats and ?soy burgers? – read label
Foods that are safe (do not contain gluten)
-Buckwheat (yes, despite the name!)
-Oats ? see note below
-Nuts/Nut flours/Nut butters
-Coconut/Coconut flour/Coconut butter/Coconut milk
-Dairy Products (check label, however, on yogurts and cheese and ice cream)
A note about Oats: oats contain a protein called avenin. In the vast majority of studies, oats are well tolerated in people with Celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Up to 98% of people with Celiac disease can consume oats without worry. However, there can be issues of cross-contamination at storage sites. If oats are stored in a silo that housed wheat, there is a chance some gluten residue is present in the oats. The solution to this is to seek out oats that are labeled ?gluten free? and only consume those. Of course, if you feel that oats are giving you symptoms, it is best to avoid them. Overall, they are completely tolerable for most people.
Reading Labels: Perhaps the most crucial aspect to successful gluten elimination is that you become an expert in reading labels. Remember that you want to remain gluten free, and not just wheat free. If you are in doubt about a product, write to the company online. Don?t forget to ask about prescription medications, and read the labels to over-the-counter drugs carefully, too. Always shop the gluten-free ?GF? labels.
Many shampoos, conditioners, lotions, makeup, body washes and soaps also may contain gluten or wheat products, so don’t forget to check those, too. There are a large number of companies who make gluten-free cosmetic and hygienic products. Check out Nature’s Gate, Desert Essence, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, Dr. Woods, Mineral Fusion, Alaffia, Nubian Heritage and Alba to get started.