Gluten-free diets in the United States have grown over the past decade, with a sharp increase in celiac disease cases. What many don't know is that gluten can impact people who are not diagnosed as celiac, and potentially lead to mental health disorders like depression and ADHD. You may have noticed some of these symptoms, but you may not understand that they could be related to an allergy or intolerance to gluten. In this blog post, we will explore what gluten is and how it can affect our bodies, as well as which foods contain it. We'll also discuss what an elimination diet is and how you can do one to determine if you should avoid gluten even if your symptoms are less obvious than those experienced by someone with celiac disease.
WHAT IS GLUTEN?
Gluten is a protein that's found in barley, rye, and wheat. It was originally used as a dough conditioner, but it has been discovered in the last 100 years that gluten in some foods can cause an immune reaction. When you eat foods with gluten in them, your body recognizes it as a foreign substance and sends an immune response to attack it. This can result in chronic intestinal disorders like celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). People who are not diagnosed with celiac disease but have symptoms similar to those of celiac disease may also be sensitive to gluten.
HOW DOES GLUTEN AFFECT?
Gluten affects the digestive system and may negatively impact the immune system. This can then lead to symptoms like irritable bowel syndrome, abdominal pain, bloating, headaches, and fatigue. If you have these symptoms and suspect gluten may be the culprit, you should visit your primary care physician (PCP) for a referral to a gastroenterologist so they can test you for celiac disease or NCGS.
However, even if you are not diagnosed with either of those conditions there is good evidence that avoiding gluten can improve symptoms of other health disorders or diseases. This has led to an increase in gluten-free foods, which has made it easier than ever before to eliminate gluten from our diets.
THERE ARE ALSO SOCIAL REASONS FOR ELIMINATING GLUTEN
Much of the gluten-free products out there are very tasty, and often you can find gluten-free versions of common foods like bread and pasta. Studies have shown that when people go gluten-free, they spend more money on gluten-free products, they get up to 28% more exercise, and they improve their mood by reporting lower levels of fatigue.
Although food manufacturers offer gluten-free options, surprisingly not all restaurants do. Many restaurants use wheat in making sauces and fillings even though it is not listed on the ingredients label. You may have noticed many of your favourite restaurants add wheat or barley flour to sauces and gravies for added flavour. You should make sure to ask the chef about the ingredients in dishes or sauces, and if you're uncertain about a restaurant's policy on gluten, you can contact them ahead of time. Stay healthy and happy eating!