The Gluten Hype
The presence of gluten-free foods has sky-rocketed across the nation and is causing some confusion. Some think that it can be used as a new fad diet, while others think that Celiac’s disease and gluten sensitivity are the same thing. First, let us determine what this “gluten stuff” actually is.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains. The two most talked about issues relating to gluten are gluten sensitivity and Celiac’s disease. These two diseases are often incorrectly used interchangeably. In reality the two differ dramatically in the way the body reacts to the presence of gluten. Gluten sensitivity is intolerance to gluten. This means that when those with the sensitivity consume gluten their immune system will exhibit allergic-reaction-type symptoms including diarrhea, a skin rash, bloating, constipation, and abdominal cramps and pain. There is no permanent damage to the body and no chronic illnesses will result.
Celiac’s disease has the same symptoms as gluten sensitivity initially, but can result in chronic illnesses if left untreated. Celiac’s disease is an autoimmune response that is triggered when the body of the person with the disease is exposed to gluten. Villi are tiny hair-like projections in the small intestine that help the body absorb nutrients. The autoimmune response of Celiac’s disease flattens and consequently destroys these villi, making it almost impossible for the small intestine to absorb the nutrients the body needs to survive. Major nutrients that are affected with Celiac’s disease are folate, iron and calcium because they are predominantly absorbed in the first part of the small intestine where the villi can be damaged. The absorption of other nutrients may be affected as well, resulting in many malnutrition-related issues including osteoporosis, anemia, joint pain, muscle cramps, seizures, amenorrhea, infertility, weight changes, dental problems, fatigue. Sometimes the person may exhibit behavior changes such as depression, anxiety and ADHD. In the United States alone, .7% of the populations (2 million people) have Celiac’s disease. For many, it takes several attempts to diagnose it because of the similar symptoms to irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, and iron deficiency. It is crucial that Celiac’s is diagnosed correctly because of the chronic effects described above. Another important detail to the disease that many may or may not think of is the gluten content in cosmetic products, over-the-counter and prescription drugs and even some craft supplies. For those with Celiac’s disease, reading the labels of these products in addition to food products become essential. Simply because the label advertizes the food as “gluten-free” does not mean that it avoided cross-contamination with other foods that contain gluten. Even the slightest amount of gluten can cause problems with this disease.
Some people choose to eat foods that do not contain gluten as a means to lose weight. This is strongly discouraged for multiple reasons. Firstly, just because a food is listed as gluten-free does not mean it is low-fat, low-calorie and all around healthy for you. Second, eliminating entire food groups without medical reasons to do so can be detrimental to your body. A large portion of the carbohydrates (our body’s energy source) we consume contain gluten. The avoidance of gluten results in less carbohydrate consumption which results in energy-loss. Lastly, avoiding carbohydrates can trigger the starvation mechanism of the body which causes the storage of fat, in turn causing the person to actually gain weight.
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