There are a lot of myths about gluten intolerance. These misconceptions are exacerbated by the opportunistic commercial twists generated by the food industry. They are always so keen at creating new food fads and generating new sources of profit. The “gluten free” market is the fastest growing new trend in the food industry. These products retail at a higher price than usual products.
The truth about “gluten free” foods is also misconstrued. How many of you may wonder:
– Am I gluten intolerant or allergic to gluten, and if I am, what do I need to change in my diet?
– Does “gluten free” mean “carbohydrate free?”
– People say that gluten free cookies are “healthier” than regular cookies. I’m not gluten intolerant, but aren’t gluten free cookies healthier?
– Only wheat has gluten, right? So if I’m gluten intolerant, is wheat the only food I have to avoid?
So let’s clarify a few things…
1. What is gluten and which foods contain gluten?
Gluten is a protein contained in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and other grains. It is a sticky protein, which gives a nice consistency to bread and other foods prepared with wheat. It helps transform the flour and water into the sticky and chewy dough. This chemical property means that gluten is also used as an additive in other commercial preparations in order to improve texture and thickness.
Did you know that gluten is added to so many foods, including:
– Most condiments including soy sauce, mustard, ketchup, salad dressings, etc.
– Spreads: cheese based, plant based cheese…
– Ice creams, custards and yogurts
– Frozen or canned meals including soups, pre-cooked meals, vegetables and beans, sauces, processed French fries…
– Beer as it is usually barley based
– Processed meats (as a filler)
– Some vinegars
– Gluten is used as a binder in other foods such as chewing gum, fruit drinks, protein shakes, imitation seafood and processed meat preparations
– It occurs naturally in green magma powder mixtures, in the form of wheat grass
– Protein powders
Clearly, gluten is a very sneaky ingredient. It is a challenge for gluten intolerant people to really know the composition of any processed food they buy. Additionally, in order to meet the growing demands of the food industry, crop growers have genetically engineered grains to be richer in gluten. This is one of the reasons gluten intolerance is on the rise.
Gluten is Not Always Mentioned on Food Labels!
Now, the good news is that the FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) has implemented a new gluten-free labeling guidance policy that will be enacted in August of 2014. In the meantime, it is still difficult to find out the truth. For example, even non-glutenous grains such as oats can be cross contaminated with gluten when they are processed in the same factories. They can even be airborne-contaminated from one field of crops to another. So even when you buying oats, check that they are certified gluten free!
2. Myths about Gluten Intolerance
What is Gluten Intolerance versus Celiac Disease?
When you are gluten intolerant, your body cannot break the gluten protein into amino-acids to be digested and assimilated into the blood stream to nourish your cells. In the small intestine, gluten will irritate and inflame the villi – little fingers on the intestine wall responsible for absorbing the nutrients from the digested food into the bloodstream. Gluten is then expelled from the body via the digestive system.
For those living with Celiac Disease, which is an auto-immune disease, the villi will end up damaged. The villi will then let the gluten protein pass into the blood stream. The body will recognize the gluten protein as an antigen and will produce antibodies to combat it. The inflammation and destruction of the villi has serious consequences. The intestinal wall becomes inefficient at digesting foods in general and becomes porous, triggering more food intolerance – such as dairy intolerance, digestive problems and vitamins and essential nutrients deficiencies.
One of the myths about gluten intolerance is that you will develop Celiac Disease. This is not the case. Celiac Disease will start with the symptoms of gluten intolerance.
Issues are the same for those with Gluten Intolerance as those with Celiac Disease:
— Diarrhea or constipation
— Bloating and gas
— Digestive dysfunction
— Nausea and vomiting
— Lack of energy
— Brain fog
— Other food intolerances (often dairy intolerance)
— Constantly feeling unwell
— Joints pain
— Hives and rashes
Celiac Disease is gluten Intolerance gone awry. It is a serious auto-immune disease. There are several blood tests that can be done to diagnose Celiac Disease. These blood tests will not tell you however if you are just gluten intolerant! There are other stool/saliva tests available for testing intolerance. Talk to your health practitioner if you have a suspicion that you may have gluten intolerance.
Gluten Intolerance is not an allergy. You cannot get desensitized. You will not get allergic reactions such as anaphylactic shock! But it is there for life. The only way to avoid the symptoms is to avoid gluten. Wheat and other gluten rich grains must be replaced by a combination of several alternate grain sources, many of which come from the table above.
— Nut flours
Usually, because gluten is not present in gluten free preparations, some “stickiness” agents have to be added such as plant based xanthan gum or guar gum. In spite of that, you may have noticed that cakes, cookies or bread prepared with gluten free starches are usually drier and not as chewy as their gluten rich versions. Frankly speaking, I tested a few gluten free products and did not like them, especially the cardboard – like bread.
A Word of Caution …
Read labels! In all these gluten-free preparations, especially breads and sweet treats such as donuts for instance, the wheat based flour has been mostly replaced with the cheapest and whitest form of other carbohydrate sources such as white rice, potato or corn flours and starches.
Other healthier flour sources such as millet, quinoa, amaranth or nut based flours are healthier, but more expensive. They also will not give the products enough of a “cohesion” factor. The food industry will usually blend a mix of flours with a predominance for the cheapest whitest flours to control texture and costs.
Gluten Free Cookies in General =
Super High Glucose Spike!
In conclusion, except for the healthy artisanal treat, most gluten free foods are as processed, sugary, fatty and calorie rich as gluten based foods. They are as bad as regular whole grain cookies for your diet when it comes to sugar and overall caloric intake.
So let me ask you, are you really gluten intolerant? Or, do you just feel it is a healthy prevention behavior to switch to gluten free foods?
Many people I know are not proven gluten intolerant, but choose to go on a gluten free diet and eliminate most of their carbs. But they only eliminate the bread and cookies. They forget to avoid soy sauce or the industrial French fries! After a few weeks, they mention the fact they feel so much better. However, the reason they feel better is just because they eliminated most of their carbs/sugar intake, not gluten! This is one of the biggest myths about gluten intolerance and eating gluten free.
If you are confirmed as gluten intolerant, you have to really AVOID all the sources I mentioned before, not just the carbs. This is very difficult. You must become a food and label expert. Eating becomes complicated. You have mostly to stick to fresh foods and ingredients and cook from scratch, which is in fact the best path to optimal health.
If you are confirmed as gluten intolerant, eat:
–Beans and seeds
–Nuts, preferably fresh
–Fresh poultry, meat and fish
–Fresh and real seafood
–All dairy, but be reminded that gluten intolerance can be associated with lactose intolerance
If intolerance to gluten or Celiac Disease runs in your family or if you see a difference when you avoid gluten, go to your doctor and ask about testing and finding out what is your status. Prevention is the best remedy and avoiding gluten at an early stage can delay and perhaps avoid the onset of bigger issues.
by Veronique Cardon, MS