Before last year, I had no idea what gluten was or why someone would want to live gluten-free because it sounds crazy! What? Who are these people who would willingly give up pasta and beer?! However, the more I learn about gluten, the more I realize there is A LOT more to it than I thought. The most important thing I learned is it isn’t a weight-loss diet. It is a lifestyle change some people have to make due to Celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity.
Let me start with some basic information about gluten:
- Gluten is a mixture of proteins in wheat, rye, or barley (buckwheat is gluten-free)
- Common foods that contain gluten: pizza, pretzels, beer, crackers, most baked goods, pasta. Click here for the Mayo Clinic’s list of what is allowed and not allowed on a gluten-free diet.
- A person can still have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity even if they don’t have Celiac disease.
- Symptoms of someone who has a gluten-intolerance may include: fatigue, difficulty concentrating, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, acid reflux (sounds fun, right?)
- There is data that suggests eliminating gluten can improve behaviors of people with Autism, mood disorders (like Schizophrenia), and ADD/ADHD.
My unscientific survey of my gluten-free friends says that, if you have a gluten intolerance, eliminating it from your diet will make you feel 1000x better. At the age of 29, I’ve already had two colonoscopies so I eliminated gluten (with the support of my doctor) for a few weeks last March to see if it solved some of my long-standing gastro issues. It was almost an immediate improvement. As uncomfortable as that is to share with the world (or all 15 of my readers), hopefully that lends credibility to the impact eliminating gluten can have on some people.
How does gluten impact the body? The small intestine has hairlike structures called villi that absorb important nutrients. For people with Celiac’s disease or a gluten intolerance, gluten causes the body to attack the villi and shorten or completely flatten them. This reduces their ability to absorb nutrients. You are what you eat, but more importantly you are what your body absorbs.
How do you find out if you have Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance? You can get tested for Celiac by your doctor but the test is not accurate if you eliminate gluten before getting tested. If you want to determine whether you have an intolerance, eliminate gluten from your diet for 1-2 weeks and see if you notice a difference. If you notice a difference and decide to live gluten-free, talk to your doctor about whether he/she would recommend any additional supplements for you.
The good news is there are actually a lot of good foods out there that don’t contain gluten. When Matt and I tried gluten-free, we discovered a lot of new dishes which we might not have otherwise tried (like spaghetti squash, which is now one of our favorite foods!).
For example, these are some delicious gluten-free (and dairy-free) Almond Joy bars I ate at a party last night:
If you want to see more gluten-free foods, you should check out Elana’s Pantry.
Why am I not gluten-free? I have limited my gluten intake and increased my fiber intake, which has been a good balance for me. I’ve seen the most improvement in my health by trying to “eat clean”, which I will go into more detail about in a later post.
I feel like I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg on this topic so here are some additional resources if you’d like to learn more.
- Women’s Health November 2011 article about gluten
- Gluten Free Living
- Celiac Disease Foundation