Is gluten intolerance just a fad?
Is gluten intolerance just a fad? Why you should look to reduce your gluten intake starting now!
For years, many of those working in the “health sector” whether professionally trained or not, strongly advised avoiding gluten rich foods. It became a trend that gluten was “bad for you” without any firm evidence to back it up.
But in recent years, more and more evidence points the fact that gluten is not a friend to the human gut or body. This article explains how gluten may be damaging to your health and how to manage your food choices, so gluten is not a main ingredient in your daily diet.
Gut Barrier Integrity and Leaky Gut
Let me start by explaining the importance of the gut barrier. It effectively separates the contents of the gut from the rest of the body. Consider the waste products that pass through your colon to be excreted. If you did not have a robust gut barrier, some contents could leach back through into your blood steam. Urgh!
A strong functioning gut barrier only allows fully digested food to pass through: amino acids (from proteins), simple sugars like glucose (from carbohydrates), fatty acids and glycerol (from fats), vitamins, minerals, plant phytonutrient compounds and water. The essential nutrients that keep us alive, feed our cells, provide energy and provide the building blocks for new tissues.
Amongst gut health professionals, we often use a term known as “leaky gut” or more formally as “intestinal permeability” It’s when the cells lining the gut become damaged and slightly larger gaps appear between them. These gaps are known as tight junctions, but when there is damage, these junctions are not so tight! When this happens, other substances and toxins can pass through.
Imagine toxins from pathogenic bacteria and partially digested food molecules like proteins getting into the bloodstream. The body can (and should) react to these, as they are “foreign”. The immune system does not recognise them and for some people an over-reaction can occur.
All sorts of symptoms can occur: skin reactions, headaches, lethargy, brain fog, joint pain are just some of the typical reactions. It doesn’t stop at just these. Autoimmune conditions, inflammation and gut disorders can also be implicated in leaky gut.
Impact of gluten
We are aware that for those with diagnosed Celiac disease, it is essential to avoid gluten as it seriously impairs nutrient absorption in the gut. It’s a disease that must be taken seriously.
But for most people, the reaction to gluten is more subtle. Several studies have shown that gluten can contribute to the breakdown of the gut barrier tight junctions, which can lead to intestinal permeability. The key protein that holds tight junctions together is zonulin which is released in response to the presence of gluten. It may vary between people, but it is known to happen.
Where do we find gluten?
It isn’t just wheat, it is all associated grains like spelt, sourdough, durum, semolina, couscous. It is also found in rye and barley. Also look at sources and soups as wheat may be used as a thickener.
Should I avoid it?
If you have a diagnosis of celiac’s disease then yes – you must avoid all gluten products, including those that do not contain gluten but are processed in a factory alongside gluten grains like oats.
For everyone else, keep a food diary for a week to look out how much gluten you eat every day.
Aim to reduce the load
Can you make some switches to gluten-free grains like millet, rice, quinoa (not strictly a grain anyway), buckwheat (the name is confusing!), amaranth and corn?
Can you find ways to avoid gluten on days at home so that on days out a little gluten will not be overly problematic? Try pasta made from lentils or chickpeas. Try wraps made from sweet potato or oats. Try crackers made from pulses (Rude Health have a fab range). If you want a cake alternative, try an almond flour recipe.
It’s all about moderation and the 80/20 Pareto rule- or ideally 90/10. If you can avoid gluten most of the time, your gut should not overly react when you choose to eat it on the odd occasion.
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