To eat gluten or not to eat gluten. That has been the real challenge of the wellness world for the past couple of years because gluten has been designated the culprit behind gut discomfort, fertility problems, skin issues, and much more.
Of course, if you have celiac disease, you should not be eating any food that contains gluten. But only 1% of the population has this disease, and yet the gluten-free diet trend is gaining popularity among a wider crowd.
So should everyone avoid gluten at all costs? What does gluten do to your guts and how does it affect the digestive system? What is the relationship between gluten and inflammation? Which foods should be eliminated on a gluten-free diet? We’ll answer all these questions in this article.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a general name for the proteins naturally found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley. But it can also be found in other foods too. Gluten works like glue to help the food maintain its shape.
The difference between gluten intolerance and celiac disease
- Celiac is an autoimmune condition. People who have celiac disease should not eat foods containing gluten because it triggers an immune reaction in the lining of the small intestine. This can be dangerous to their health as the lining of the small intestine is responsible for nutrient absorption.
- Symptoms can range from diarrhea, weight loss, and vomiting to more subtle issues like headaches, skin problems, and fertility challenges.
- If you suspect you might have celiac disease, it’s important not to diagnose yourself and suddenly cut gluten out of your diet but to consult your doctor first. If you have celiac disease, your doctor will give you advice about how to avoid gluten.
- There are also people who don’t have celiac disease but still have problems with gluten. This is called gluten intolerance or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).
- People with gluten intolerance but not celiac disease also suffer from gastrointestinal discomfort or similar symptoms of celiac disease like headaches, brain fog, or skin problems. The difference is that they don’t experience the intestinal damage that celiac sufferers do.
- The cause behind gluten intolerance symptoms is probably increased inflammation in the body. That’s why people with gluten intolerance may also benefit from a low-gluten or gluten-free diet to eliminate these symptoms.
Does gluten cause inflammation?
- Inflammation is a natural response of your body to fight against viruses, germs, and bacteria, and to trigger your body’s healing mechanism.
- But when the inflammation level increases in the body for long periods, your immune system may be more active than necessary.
- As a result, your immunity may start attacking even the useful components of your body.
What does all this have to do with gluten? Well, gluten causes a very similar inflammatory reaction. This means that your body perceives gluten as a harmful germ and tries to destroy it, rather than simply digesting it. And this creates chronic inflammation in the body as you continue eating gluten.
What foods are limited on a gluten-free diet
If you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, there’s a list of gluten-containing foods that you should avoid on your gluten-free diet. Here are the most commonly known:
- Wheat and its varieties (wheatberries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham, einkorn wheat…)
- Brewer’s yeast
These are commonly found in the following foods:
- Pasta, noodles, dumplings…
- Bread and bakery goods like cakes, croissants, crackers, pretzels, bagels…
- Cereals and granolas
- Cookies, chips, energy bars…
- Beer and malt vinegar
- Sauces, dressings, and anything else that contains wheat flour…
The list goes on, but the main thing to do is to read the ingredient labels on your food packaging.
If you don’t have celiac disease and would like to continue eating small doses of gluten-containing foods, switching to a keto diet, following an intermittent fasting plan, or practicing both of these at the same time will most probably decrease the inflammation level in your body. It will also give you the freedom of enjoying some food containing gluten from time to time.
To sum up
Nowadays, gluten is demonized for many health problems. If advised by your doctor, following a gluten-free diet is the best option for you. But if you don’t have any health problems, enjoying a few snacks and meals that contain gluten isn’t the end of the world.