Should I avoid gluten is probably a question many of us have asked ourselves over the last few years. Here is some useful information that may help you get to the right answer.
As you may know, gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley) can trigger an immune response in some individuals, causing damage to the small intestinal lining as well as other symptoms related to fertility, bone health, nutrient absorption, and neurological pathways, to name a few. Other people don’t feel so well when they eat gluten but don’t have any sort of immune reaction.
Gluten intolerance can be classified into 3 main buckets:
· Celiac disease– a condition in which gluten triggers an immune response that damages the intestinal lining. This condition affects approximately 1% of the population.
· Wheat allergy– an allergic reaction to proteins found in wheat, most common in children. Symptoms include nausea and anaphylaxis.
· Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)– symptomatically can be similar to celiac disease but without the manifestations of intestinal damage, or nutrient malabsorption.
Gluten has been linked to worsening autoimmune conditions, such as Hashimoto’s, type 1 diabetes, Grave’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and IBD (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis). As a result, people with autoimmune disease are often advised to avoid gluten.
While a large majority of the population doesn’t suffer from any of the above conditions, a gluten free diet (GFD) is often recommended as a panacea for just about everything under the sun, from improving mental clarity and autism-related symptoms to speeding weight loss and boosting energy.
But is there any truth to these claims? Should everyone be on a GFD? Dr. Daniel A. Leffler, director of clinical research at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, would say no. Quoted in an article at Harvard Health, Dr. Leffler says, “People who are sensitive to gluten may feel better, but a larger portion will derive no significant benefit from the practice. They’ll simply waste their money, because these products are expensive.”
Other experts disagree with Dr. Leffler and believe that whether you have a gluten intolerance or not, gluten should generally be avoided. Gutbliss supports this latter philosophy (although in the absence of celiac disease the avoidance does not need to be 100%) and here’s why:
Reason #1: Gluten may negatively affect more individuals than previously thought and may have important implications for gut health. There’s no definitive test for NCGS, and we are therefore unsure as to whom and how many suffer from the condition, although studies show that it is on the rise. While the science is still murky, research also shows that gluten in healthy individuals triggers a deeper negative biological response, even in those who don’t experience symptoms. A study published in Nutrients showed that gut lining permeability – a mechanism that can lead to whole body inflammation – occurs in everyone when consuming gluten. Lastly, a diet containing low gluten consumption is linked to positive changes in the gut microbiome.
Reason #2: Gluten-containing foods are often refined foods that contain a multitude of additives, and are high in calories, sugar, and unhealthy fats. Whether or not it’s the gluten leading to GI and other symptoms, these types of high sugar, low nutritive foods are associated with plummeting energy levels, brain fog, joint pain, moodiness, digestive upset, and weight gain. Avoiding gluten-containing foods altogether can help you cut down on your consumption of processed foods, which in turn can boost your energy levels, improve your mood and mental clarity, speed weight loss, resolve gut-related symptoms, and bring forth an overall sense of feeling better.
Reason #3: When gluten-containing foods are eliminated from your diet, lots of real-estate is freed up on your plate, making room for whole, fresh, plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and avocado. So much of the time it’s not what you’re eating, but what you’re not eating that’s causing your symptoms. But beware! Replacing gluten-containing foods with their gluten-free counterparts (such as breads, crackers, pizza, cookies, pastas, etc.) will do nothing to improve your health. These GF replacements often contain additives and lots of sugar and calories, and will leave you feeling just as bad – if not worse!
Bottom Line: If you’re wondering whether or not you should cut gluten from your diet, consider trying a GFD for 2 weeks and see how you feel. While it might not be the gluten dragging you down, it could be the fact that you’re eating a highly processed diet that also happens to contain a lot of gluten. Just remember to replace the gluten with fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds, instead of gluten free packaged foods. Your gut may thank you!