Have you noticed an increase in gluten free offerings on restaurant menus and in supermarkets? Gluten awareness is increasing as more people realize they have a gluten intolerance or allergy. Gluten allergies can manifest themselves in many ways, including digestive issues, headaches, low energy, and even behavioral issues. Most of us have not gone a day without consuming gluten since we tend to eat the same foods daily (are you a cereal junkie in the morning? always have a sandwich for lunch?). Also, the American diet is highly refined, and processed foods are full of gluten. It is important to make the distinction between a gluten intolerance and a gluten allergy. The former would mean cutting back on gluten for improved health of a mild condition(s). People who suffer from the latter (also known as celiac disease) must avoid all products containing gluten.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and to a lesser extent oats. It is what makes bread sticky and fluffy. It is difficult to duplicate the softness without it. Wheat is the big whammy since it is very difficult to avoid. Even if you pass on the obvious choices (bread, pasta, baked goods, etc.) you still find wheat as a stabilizer in everything from salad dressings to soups to sauces. Why do so many people have trouble digesting gluten? In the grand scheme of human lives, grains are a fairly new addition. We have only been consuming them about 10,000 years and our digestive tracts may not have evolved enough to digest them properly. Additionally, our food manufacturing process has changed so much in the past 100 years that wheat flour barely resembles its original state.
How do you know if you have a gluten sensitivity? It is surprisingly easy to figure out. It does not involve needles but does require a commitment. Eliminate all gluten from your diet for a specific amount of time (anywhere from 1-2 months is reasonable). Then, reintroduce it…and go crazy! Have a bagel for breakfast and pizza at lunch. This will only help pronounce the side effects that may be persistent everyday yet hard to notice because you have lived with them your entire life.
Even if you do not think you suffer from a gluten allergy, it is worth conducting an elimination test. At the beginning of last year, I did a gluten elimination test. By 3pm on the day I reintroduced it, I was a lump on the couch. If I normally found myself on the couch at this time I would not have noticed my intolerance. But the low energy coupled with brain fog alerted me to my gluten intolerance. Do I avoid all gluten nowadays? No. But I do stick to as many whole grains as possible and buy gluten-free crackers, bread, and pasta for home. When I am out I try not to overdo it, but realize the consequences if I do. However, you can bet if I am leading a nutrition workshop or cooking class the following day I won’t touch the sticky stuff!