Gluten is a protein found in some grains, especially wheat and is found in the following grains:
- Oats (possibly, the proportion of individuals with gluten sensitivity that are also sensitive to the storage proteins in oats is likely less than 1%)
Gluten is not found in the following grains:
- Rice (all varieties)
What you should know about gluten
Gluten intolerance is the most common food sensitivity disease of the intestine. It affects about 15% of the US population, although since many people are undiagnosed, it may be even higher.
Consuming gluten triggers an immune response in gluten-intolerant people.
When we swallow a food antigen (like gluten) the body goes to work fighting it. White cells recognize the antigens and destroy them. When the white cells are overwhelmed, inflammation results.
Short- and long-term effects
Initially, gluten intolerance can manifest as diarrhea, bloating, flatulence, uncomfortable stools, weight loss and malnutrition. Other inflammatory symptoms can also result. For an intolerant person, regularly consuming gluten will result in long-term damage, including intestinal scarring and nutrient malabsorption.
Chronic inflammation can atrophy and flatten the intestinal lining, which impairs digestion.
Gluten and other inflammatory proteins can weaken the intestinal wall by opening tight junctions.
When the intestinal lining is compromised, more food antigens can then cross the barrier and enter the bloodstream. Other pathogens get into general circulation. This causes the body to produce more antibodies, attempting to fight the antigens. It can also mean that depending on the pathogen, the body is more susceptible to harmful micro-organisms and unwanted invaders.
How do I know if I am intolerant?
Because these processes can trigger widespread effects throughout the body, it can often be challenging to diagnose gluten intolerance right away. Digestive upset is one of the most common and obvious symptoms; this can include gastric reflux (heartburn), bloating, gas, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea.
In addition, there can be other symptoms — often symptoms that we wouldn’t assume to be related to what we’ve eaten. However, if we understand gluten intolerance as a wide-ranging systemic inflammatory response, then this broad range of symptoms makes more sense. These can include:
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Nutritional deficiencies due to malabsorbtion (e.g. low iron levels)
- Fat in the stools (due to poor digestion)
- Aching joints
- Depression, anxiety, irritability and other behavioural changes
- Eczema and skin rashes
- Chronic fatigue and low energy
- Infertility, irregular menstrual cycle and miscarriage
- Cramps, tingling and numbness (often due to vitamin B12 malabsorption)
- Slow infant and child growth
- Decline in dental health
- Asthma and allergies
- Food cravings, especially for baked goods and sweets
Since your body makes antibodies in response to what it sees as a harmful invader, testing the serum for antibodies can identify most patients with a gluten allergy.
Not everyone has an allergic reaction to gluten. Some may simply have a sensitivity to it. Individuals with a sensitivity to gluten may find that gluten-containing foods cause bloating, water retention, anheighten food cravings, particularly sugar and carbohydrate-laden foods. A gluten-free diet may lead to increases in beneficial gut bacteria, and therefore aid in weight loss, decreases in food cravings and therefore lead to better self-control over food choices.
Why is gluten so important?
North Americans eat prodigious amounts of grains. In 1967, consumption of gluten-containing grains was 115 pounds per person. In 2003, it reached 139 pounds.
Gluten intolerance appears to be more prevalent in people of white European descent.
The estimated prevalence of gluten sensitive enteropathy (GSE) or celiac disease (CD):
- In the general U.S. population: 1 in 133
- In African-, Hispanic, and Asian-Americans: 1 in 236
- Worldwide: 1 in 266
It’s been shown that gluten can be addictive. In Food Addicts Anonymous, wheat is actually put in the same category as sugar and flour.
Summary and recommendations
- If you suspect an allergy or severe intolerance to gluten, contact your physician and set up testing.
- If avoidance of gluten is warranted, begin doing a kitchen audit. Get rid of gluten-containing foods and start keeping a dietary log to note what you are eating and how you feel.
- If you don’t have any type of sensitivity to gluten, it may still be beneficial to diversify grain use when possible. Rotating grains may prevent the development of any sensitivity along with diversifying your nutrient intake. Still, incorporating some grains with gluten is probably fine.
Hidden Gluten-containing foods
Gluten can also be found in:
- Modified food starch
- Soy sauce
- Medications & supplements
- Other processed foods