Oh the gluten issue...my wheat belly post is now the most popular page on this site. So popular, in fact, that it shows up in the number two spot after the wheat belly blog during a Google search. Point...and counter point.
Gluten is on everyone's lips in some shape or form, this issue is no longer just a "health food thing". We are awash in a sea of processed gluten-containing foods and not surprisingly, massively suffering its effects.
( For a brief discussion of what gluten is, check out part one if you haven't already. )
Onto the million dollar question: should you avoid gluten? The answer is simple...
Maybe. Darn dietitian...always confusing us with the subtleties of truly personalized nutrition!
According to new work from the pioneering team at the University of Maryland, there is now a clear spectrum of wheat and gluten intolerance. Here is a look at who should be avoiding gluten and/or wheat:
1. Those with Celiac Disease. No surprise there. Celiac Disease is not an allergy but an auto-immune disease mediated by gluten exposure. If you suspect that gluten is making you ill, ruling out Celiac Disease immediately (go to your doctor and get a blood test tomorrow! It is that simple.) is critical as this diagnosis will ensure that you get the lifelong medical care you require to avoid complications and get gluten free right. A proper diagnosis will also provide you with strong motivation to stay strictly gluten free for life. If you cannot (or your doctor will not) do a blood test, you can actually screen yourself at home and take the results to your doctor.
2. The gluten sensitive. These are people who have ruled out Celiac Disease but through elimination and challenge have demonstrated that their symptoms are directly attributable to gluten and not just wheat. Symptoms include mental fog, fatigue and abdominal discomfort. It is not clear exactly how this sensitivity is mediated, according to study authors.The diagnostic process should be performed with a health professional's guidance to ensure that no other complicating factors could be missed.
3. The wheat intolerant. This classification is not laid out in the study but I added it because I have a personal interest in it. These are people who do not react to other gluten-containing grains such as rye or barley but do react to wheat. I personally became wheat intolerant after having my son and I have ruled out Celiac Disease and wheat allergy with my physician. Without a doubt, when I eat wheat I have increased bloating, a sick/nauseous feeling in my stomach, reflux (which I have never had before - not even when pregnant!), fatigue and if I eat enough of it...bathroom issues. Let's stop there.
4. The wheat allergic. This is a classic allergic response that has to do with histamine release when wheat is consumed. It is mediated by IgE immune cells and can have a spectrum of symptoms from anaphylaxis to hives.
Now what about the rest of us?
Let me say this: I stand by my earlier statement that, for those of us who don't react to wheat or gluten, it isn't the wheat but how we process it. It is true that much of the wheat we consume has greater levels of more strongly reactive gluten and that those of us who react can become very sick but here is the catch - gluten is one of those rare proteins that none of us digest properly. So a little or a lot...wouldn't we all be pretty sick if it was really that toxic? We don't digest fibre either...and that contributes to its healthfulness. Now, I am not going to claim that gluten is a healthy bonus but I am just trying to illustrate a point.
We consume highly processed gluten-containing wheat 3 - 6 times a day. What other food do we consume so monotonously? Well, maybe dairy. Certainly not steak or blueberries or almonds. Our bodies were not meant to handle such an over consumption of a single food. Especially one that is usually so nutrient poor. Our bodies are designed to glean optimal nutrition from the greatest variety of foods that nature has to offer. In addition, eating such high-glycemic, low nutrient, un-filling food makes overeating almost a certainty, leading to weight gain. Mainlining wheat flour is a sure path to dis-ease. That is your wheat belly.
So, for better health and vitality, we all need to explore new grains. And eat them as unprocessed as possible. Try rye crackers and spelt bread. Have buckwheat pasta and barley risottos. Eat wheat berries every once in a while. Toss quinoa in salads. Oh, and every once in a while, have a meal with absolutely no grains. See how it feels. Give your body a break from our wheat carbo-loaded normal.
What do you think about all of this? Does gluten and/or wheat affect you? Start the discussion below.