In recent years, we’ve been hearing a lot about gluten. The rise of gluten awareness and its possible adverse effects on the digestive system has created a cottage industry of gluten-free food products, from bread to beer. So how can you tell if you’re sensitive to gluten? And what should you do if you are?
What is gluten?
Gluten (from the Latin word meaning “glue”) is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grains, including barley and rye. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape, and giving it a chewy texture when cooked.
Where is it found?
Everywhere. Any bread product contains gluten – meaning it’s in bagels, pizza and pastries. Pasta, crackers and cookies all have gluten in them, as does imitation meat, beer and soy sauce. It can even be found in ice cream and ketchup.
Is gluten harmful?
It can be, but probably only to a small segment of the population. About one percent of the population suffers from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder caused by ingesting gluten. However, up to 15% of Americans are estimated to be “gluten-intolerant,” and suffer from gastrointestinal troubles – and 99% of those people have never been diagnosed as such.
What are the symptoms of gluten intolerance?
Be mindful of traditional digestive problems: diarrhea, indigestion, gas, bloating and constipation. These symptoms, experienced chronically, are the biggest red flags that you may have a gluten allergy. Other warning signs include dizziness and fatigue after eating, migraines, joint inflammation and even mood issues, such as depression and anxiety.
I have some symptoms, but how can I make sure it’s because of gluten?
The only surefire way to know if you have a gluten allergy is to remove gluten from your diet entirely and see if it has an effect. It can take a little while to eliminate the protein from your body, so make sure to go at least two or three weeks without it before making a determination. If you feel better without it (and worse when you reintroduce it to your diet), your body most likely is gluten intolerant.
Is there any downside to going gluten-free?
It’s a bit expensive, for one, as gluten-free products are a specialty food. They can also be difficult to find, and may make it complicated to eat out in restaurants that haven’t yet caught up to the gluten-free trend. Most importantly, though, make sure you replace the nutrients you’re cutting out by giving up grains in some other way. Gluten-free diets tend to be deficient in fiber, iron, and niacin. Quinoa, rice flour, soy flour, peanut flour and arrowroot are good alternative sources of necessary nutrients.
Allergy vs. Intolerance
It is worth noting that a gluten allergy may improve over time, while an intolerance is permanent in most cases. If you do in fact determine that your body is adverse to gluten, consult your doctor to figure out the best course of action for your diet.