Exploring Gluten

Do you feel lately like gluten may be the source of all that is wrong in our world?  I can’t turn my head without reading about the “evils of gluten!  Gluten is definitely enjoying it’s 15 minutes in the spotlight, and everyone is questioning whether they are “allergic” to it.
Let me answer the question we all really want to ask – what exactly IS gluten??
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Gluten is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and other related grain species, such as barley and rye.  It gives elasticity to dough and helps it rise.  It gives that nice chewey texture to breads and rolls.  It’s found in beer and soy sauce.  It is often the base of imitation meat products because of it’s texture and ability to take on other tastes. Finally, it is many times added as a stabilizer to unexpected foods such as ketchup and ice cream.
Marketing companies in the past year would make you think that gluten is the source of all your health problems.  This is true for one group of people… Celiac’s Disease is a medical condition where a person is truly allergic to gluten.  It affects .5% of the US population and can be life threatening if not addressed.  The other 99.5% of us need to wade through the info to see if it has any affect on us!
Gluten in and of itself is not inherently “unhealthy”.  That doesn’t mean you want to eat products with gluten all day every day.  Here are two major myths about gluten:
1) Myth: everyone is allergic to gluten
Gluten has been around for thousands of years.  In the days people were milling their own bread and not eating processed foods, gluten wasn’t a problem.  Now it is in almost every processed food you buy.  That, in combination with the breads and wheat products we eat, means that we are consuming an enormous amount of gluten.  What happens when we eat too much of any one thing?  We can develop a sensitivity.
You may or may not be sensitive to gluten.  You need to take an assessment of what you eat daily and how you feel afterwards.  Do you feel sick to your stomach after eating bread?  Do you get a headache?  Do you get bloated after drinking a beer?  These things MIGHT indicate a sensitivity to gluten, but don’t mistake this for a true allergy.  To truly see if you feel better without gluten in your life, you need to do an elimination diet where you cut out all gluten for 10 days then slowly add back in products with gluten one at a time and see how you feel.  Let me know if you are interested in doing this and I’ll give you tips and resources!  You may discover that if you cut out one meal a day with gluten, you will feel better.  It doesn’t mean you necessarily need to eliminate it forever.  Or you might have no problem at all!
2) Myth: gluten makes you overweight
You can definitely become overweight by consuming too many bread products and processed foods, but this isn’t because they have gluten.  It’s because they are high-glycemic and spike your blood sugar!  So if you cut out bread and processed foods, you may definitely lose weight, but not because of the gluten.  Eating 2 slices of gluten-free rice bread will not have a different caloric effect than eating 2 slices of wheat bread. Eating 2 gluten-free cookies aren’t necessarily better for you than 2 cookies with gluten (gluten free cookies still have sugar, butter, eggs and oil!)  Don’t assume “gluten-free” means healthy.  Read labels and calorie contents.
I personally did a allergy elimination diet 10 years ago while going through the endometriosis diagnosis thing.  It was VERY enlightening to discover the foods I was dependent on and how they affected me!  I did discover I have a slight sensitivity to gluten.  Bloating and fatigue are my biggest symptoms.  Beer and I don’t get along, and I feel much better after cutting pasta out of my life (there was a mourning period on that though). I do fine with a little a day, and I don’t worry about it past that. The moral of this story is to be educated and aware of how food affects YOU.  If you suspect you have a sensitivity to gluten, play with your diet and see how you feel.
This is your body and your life and only you know how you truly feel. Ultimately, eat as many whole grains, fruits and veggies as you can and you might find you feel better without ever worrying about that gluten thing!

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