Gluten sensitives can cause uncomfortable symptoms and it’s often misunderstood by people who don’t suffer from it. Fortunately, you can learn everything you need to know about gluten sensitivity with a search online.
People with gluten sensitivity have difficulty digesting gluten, which is a protein found in many grains. They often struggle with numerous side effects that leave them feeling less than up-to-snuff. Here’s what you need to know!
1. Gluten Sensitivity Is, Indeed, a Thing
With what seems like everyone on your social media feed “going gluten-free,” a lot of people question whether gluten sensitivity is actually even a real thing. Since it is not an immune-related disorder, there isn’t a scientifically validated blood test your doctor can use to diagnose you directly. Often what they will do first is test for Celiac disease (see #3), so they can rule out the disorder and narrow down what the issue could possibly be.
That being said, scientific studies have found differences in blood and intestinal biopsies between people with suspected gluten sensitivities to those deemed “healthy.” So, science has taken note.
2. When I Eat Gluten, I Feel Fairly Awful
When a person has a gluten sensitivity, their symptoms can vary from a headache to joint pain. That means that although the issues start with eating something, they don’t necessarily stick specifically to the gastrointestinal system. However bloating, constipation, nausea, and diarrhea are also very common when people are sensitive to gluten.
3. Gluten Sensitivity Is Not the Same as Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, where the immune system attacks the body’s own cells in response to gluten consumption. The main area targeted is the cells lining the small intestine. Once attacked, these cells can no longer function properly, meaning the sufferer is at risk for malnutrition and permanent damage to the intestine. Celiac disease is hereditary, and those who have a direct relative (parent, sibling, child) with it have a 1 in 10 chance of having it as well.
4. Gluten Sensitivity Is Not the Same as a Wheat Allergy
As mentioned previously, gluten sensitivity is not an allergic reaction within the body. Nor is it the same as being allergic to wheat (which is in the top eight food allergens in the US).
When someone suffers from a wheat allergy, it means that their immune system has issues with all the proteins found in wheat, not just gluten. The four types of wheat proteins are albumin, globulin, gliadin, and of course our friend, gluten. For some, the allergy symptoms can be mild, like a skin rash or nasal congestion, but for others, it can become life-threatening where a person can experience difficulty breathing or even anaphylaxis.
Wheat allergies are most common in children, and thankfully 65 percent outgrow it by the time they reach the age of 12.
5. Those With Gluten Sensitivity Sufferers Can’t Just “Avoid Wheat”
Gluten is most commonly associated with wheat but can be found in many other grains. Gluten is also in all varieties and derivatives of wheat such as wheatberries, durum, spelt, and graham, as well as rye, barley, and malt (and there are more!). This is why foods labeled “wheat-free” aren’t necessarily “gluten-free.”
6. Gluten Is Very Common in Foods That Aren’t From a Bakery
It’s not as simple as avoiding cookies and crackers for someone with a gluten sensitivity, because gluten can readily show up in foods that aren’t from grains. For example, gluten is found in soy sauce, salad dressings (malt vinegar), meat substitutes, and even brown rice syrup (because it may be made with barley enzymes), and the list goes on. So, when your friend with gluten sensitivity asks to see the ingredients of the foods you’re serving, don’t be offended.
7. Booze Isn’t Immune…
If avoiding bread wasn’t bad enough, undistilled alcohol which comes from grains also contains gluten. That means booze such as beer, ales, and malted beverages are on the “avoid” list. If a grain-based alcohol is distilled, such as whisky, vodka, and gin, the large-sized gluten protein is removed and should be safe to be consumed. That being said, depending on how rigorous the processes of the distillery are, contamination isn’t entirely out of the question, so proceed with caution.
8. Gluten Affects Your Noggin
As mentioned above, gluten sensitivity symptoms don’t just stay put in the stomach. Some people even find that their good ol’ melon is affected. Depression, having a “foggy” brain or trouble remembering things, and even exhibiting ADHD-like symptoms are common in people with gluten sensitivity.
9. Gluten Makes You Feel Very Tired
One of the most common effects of gluten on people who are sensitive is that it makes them feel incredibly tired. Chronic fatigue is a well-documented response, as well as feeling very lethargic (and there’s a thought that this is quite common for many of us).
Some could argue part of the problem could be that eating carbohydrates causes the production of serotonin, our feel-good, calming, sleep-inducing neurotransmitter. (This is why we feel so mellow-jello after eating a giant bowl of pasta.) But for people with gluten sensitivities, it can proceed far beyond a carb hangover and affect them long-term.
10. If You Wanna Bake Me a Cake…
Although your waistline might be happy with avoiding yummy baked goods, you might feel that a lifetime of missing out on these sweet treats is a lot to ask. Saying “no” to breakfast meeting muffins is bad enough, but to not ever get birthday cake again!?! No way!
Thankfully, there are flours readily available that are gluten-free and make for pretty good substitutes. Should you have to bake your gluten-sensitive bestie a treat, the ones to opt for are: rice flour, coconut flour, and even almond flour will work well, and are easily found in health food stores. Tasty gluten-free cake recipes are just a Google search away, but if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, specialty food shops are now offering more and more gluten-free options, including cake!
11. There Is No “Cure” for Gluten Sensitivity
Unfortunately, there isn’t a pill, shake, or tincture that could make gluten sensitivity go away. And having something with gluten “just this once” will still make your friend feel ill, even if it’s a one-off. Steering clear of gluten is really the only option to remain healthy and happy for someone with a sensitivity. And believe it when they say they wish they didn’t have this issue and could eat whatever they pleased; it’s way more of a pain for them than it is for you!
12. Yes, Going Gluten-Free Can Make You Lose Weight, but It’s Not a Long-Term Solution
Any time you cut out insulin, you’re going to shed pounds as it’s terrific at making and inhibiting the breakdown of fat. So when you eliminate a large portion of grains (i.e. carbohydrates) from your diet, you’re taking a lot of insulin out of the picture. And you’ll also be cutting out many sweet treats, which provides additional assistance for losing the lbs.
But, as mentioned above, sustaining a lifestyle where one avoids gluten is challenging and takes up a lot of time and energy. Like many other fad diets, if there isn’t a strong reason for someone to cut something out of their diet permanently (i.e. see points 2, 8, and 9), old habits will eventually creep back in, as will the need for pants with a bigger waistband.
13. Gluten-Free Foods Aren’t Always Healthier
Food manufacturers have caught on to the gluten-free lifestyle and are creating goods at an alarming rate to meet the demand. Like anything pre-packaged, it’s wise to have a look at the ingredient list, because in this case, gluten substitutions aren’t always the healthiest option. Plus, many of these foods are incredibly expensive, which is why the gluten-free industry has now hit the multibillion-dollar mark.
Speaking of taking all your money, when something is labeled “gluten-free” it doesn’t always mean it’s better for you – this marketing ploy is often used on things that have never contained gluten in the first place, like apples or a head of broccoli (which actually are good for you, but this is how sneaky food manufacturers are getting). Being a savvy shopper makes you a smart shopper.
14. Last but Not Least, “Gluten Intolerant” Is No Longer PC…
We live in a society now that is VERY big on political correctness. The internet is awash with examples of people highlighting what others are doing wrong and how to rectify their poor behavior. If you happen to be one of those PC peeps, know that saying “gluten intolerant” is no longer the way to go, and now “gluten sensitive” reigns. How happy someone will be when you point this fact out to them is still up for debate.
Lauren Brown MSc. WWHP is a certified Health & Wellness Coach who loves teaching about all facets of health and wellbeing. Much of her time is spent in workplaces, helping empower employees to get healthy through the wellness programming initiatives and educational sessions she delivers. Please see www.inspiringhealth.ca for more information.