Going gluten-free? Pause and read.
Gluten-free is the new buzz word. Most of us have anti-gluten friends who are moving mountains to make us join the “Go gluten-free!” movement. While what you eat is your choice, you might want to get some misconceptions cleared before you start allotting a fat budget for gluten-free foods.
Gluten Sensitivity or Intolerance: What’s the big idea?
Is gluten sensitivity (GS) or gluten intolerance real? This is a big debate and the scientific evidence for gluten sensitivity being a reality are strong. A section of people are staunch opposers to the whole “gluten myth” and believe the whole thing to be a charade. Yet the fact remains that there are now 1 in 133 gluten sensitives. Before you make assumptions purely based on others opinions, it is wise to do a simple home wheat intolerance test. Get off beer, cakes, bread for a meal or two and if you find yourself feeling less bloated and more energetic then maybe you do have overactive intestines to gluten. Gluten for you may not invoke a severe reaction from your gut as in Celiac disease but a discomfort is a discomfort all the same and it is a good idea to go slow on such foods. Family history is another way to find out if you are gluten sensitive. If you have family members with celiac disease (CD) then it is a good idea to get yourself tested for predisposition because Celiac Disease or Gluten Sensitivity have strong genetic implications. In many cases, your specialist will ask you to go for an intestinal biopsy which is invasive, painful and may not pick up the disease unless you actually have damaged intestines. A genetic evaluation is the most accurate and noninvasive in such cases. Just a saliva sample will suffice to give you a lot of information and help you need for your diagnosis.
Are celiac disease and gluten intolerance one and the same?
To begin with, they are both an exaggerated response by your system and involves gluten. Yet there is a difference in the role that gluten plays. In CD, gluten is like the manipulative villain who pitches two good soldiers, who are meant to be on the same side against each other. When gluten comes into your system your immune system releases an alarm that makes the white blood cells attack your intestinal lining. In GS, however, the gluten is the antagonist. There is an inflammatory response towards gluten and not your intestine. In both cases, a gluten-free diet vanishes the symptoms.
So why is our immune system perceiving gluten as an enemy? Simply because humans have started eating wheat only from 10,000 years ago which is just 0.4% of our total time on this planet. This means humans have been on a gluten-free diet for 99.6% of their time here. This makes gluten new to a process for our system. For a major chunk of us, our immune system has accepted this in the diet but for about 1% of the population, gluten is still that manipulative malefactor.
I don’t have CD or GS. Can I still go gluten-free?
Like I said at the beginning of the article what you eat is completely your choice. Feel free to go gluten-free! Nevertheless be discrete in choosing your alternatives. How are you going to make up for the fibers that make up 12-15% of the total dry weight of wheat? Not to mention that you are going to suddenly deprive your body of important vitamins and minerals that you have been casually supplying through your regular consumption of wheat. Switching to processed food labeled “gluten-free” which replace gluten-rich wheat flour with highly refined carbohydrates like potato starch, rice starch, and tapioca starch will wreck havoc on your blood sugar. Some healthy options would be millets, soy flour, and coconut flour. Buckwheat flour is now considered a good substitute for wheat in cookies and cakes. Almond flour and sorghum flour are also recommended for people affected by CD which you can explore. There is active research going on to produce genetically modified versions of wheat that do not have gluten or specifically, the protein gliadin which is the primary constituent of gluten. New Scientist reported recently that using a technique known as RNA interference, scientists are able to “remove” 90% of gliadin by silencing its expression. The study was published in Plant Biotechnology Journal last month.
The final word: Gluten sensitivity is not a myth or a fad. It is real!
Gluten sensitivity is not a myth. It is most certainly not a fashion statement. If wheat consumption makes you uncomfortable then nothing can stop you from investigating for yourself if you carry those genes. To put all doubts to rest, it is wise to take a noninvasive genetic test and take necessary precautions if need be than to be in the dark about it all your life. If you have already done a genetic test from 23andme or AncestryDNA or Family Tree DNA, you can find out about your celiac disease predisposition or gluten sensitivity status from your raw data which you can download from their website.