The Truth About Gluten: Is Gluten Intolerance Real?

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There are SO many varying views of whether or not gluten is bad for you.  Some research claims it's all in our heads, while others prove it can have serious side effects on up to 30% of the American population! We need to be careful who we listen to and what the research shows.  So what is the truth about gluten?  The best thing to do in this case: see the research ourselves and determine what's fact and what is fiction.  Is the research showing correlation or causationHow manypeople were in the trial?  Was the trial randomized or controlledHow long did the trial last?  All of these make a huge impact in the overall findings. The real proof (that no one can argue with) is in how we feel when we perform our own n=1 test by removing gluten from our own diet for 30-60 days.  You may be able to argue with the conclusion or methods of research in a trial, but you can't argue with how your body feels when you test it for yourself.

What is Gluten?

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Simply speaking, gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.   And for many people, it is the cause of a lot of harm in their body.  As Diane Sanfilippo put it in her New York Times Best Seller, Practical Paleo, "if it has to pass through a factory before it is edible for you, reconsider whether or not it is actually food.  More likely, it is an 'edible product' or 'food-like-substance.'"  And guess what?  She is absolutely right!  You will not find gluten in any whole, unprocessed foods.  Therefore, gluten is NOT a real food (or even IN real food, for that matter).

Where is Gluten Found?

Gluten is found in the majority of processed foods.  Since it carries elasticity properties and helps hold flours and other ingredients together (and because it is a cheap and easy crop to farm), modern industrialization has been using it for practically everything from sauces to crackers to cakes.  Here is a list of some of the most common gluten-containing foods (some might surprise you...!):

  • cereal
  • chip varieties, including pretzels
  • cookies
  • couscous
  • crackers
  • frozen dinners
  • granola
  • ice cream
  • malt
  • many medications and vitamins
  • conventional oatmeal (those not labelled gluten-free)
  • orzo
  • panko
  • pasta
  • pastries
  • protein bars and shakes
  • snack bars
  • soy sauce
  • spice mixes

Who Should Avoid Gluten?

Honestly?  Everyone.  It is not a whole food and was never meant to be consumed by humans.  It also causes a countless amount of health issues.  That being said, there are certain people who  should avoid gluten like their health depends on it - because it does!

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There are 3 types of gluten sensitivities:

  1. Celiac (auto-immune condition)
  2. Gluten allergy (allergic to gluten and/or wheat as one would be allergic to peanuts or alike)
  3. Gluten-intolerance (consumption of gluten causes side effects)

There aren't too many celiacs or individuals who are completely allergic to gluten, but a recent study has proven that up to 30% of Americans have a gluten-intolerance whether they realize it or not!  That's nearly 1/3 of all Americans!  And most people don't even know it.  Crazy...!  Even if you don't think you have a gluten-intolerance, doing an elimination diet for 30-60 days just to see how you feel can be very beneficial to your health.  After the 30-60 days are up, one would reintroduce gluten back into the diet and note any changes in  mood, digestion, memory, aches, bloating and the like.  Most people are surprised about what they find out!

Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance:

As stated above, having a gluten (or wheat) allergy or celiac disease is completely different from having a gluten intolerance.  Not every has an allergy or autoimmune reaction to gluten, but many people do have an intolerance to gluten whether they know it or not.  This is because our bodies were not created to break down gluten!  Gluten hurts the lining of our gut (which I will cover in another post) and causes inflammation and other health problems.

This is not an all-exclusive list of the range of symptoms people can have when they consume gluten, but Chris Kresser lists some of the more serious ones in his article When Gluten is Not a Fad:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Ataxia
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Endometriosis
  • Insulin resistance
  • Inflammation

I would also like to add the following more common symptoms:

  • Upper respiratory/sinus infections
  • Bloating
  • Gas and indigestion
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Leaky gut
  • Acne
  • Brain fog
  • Weight loss resistance
  • Gut flora imbalance

As stated above, these are only someof the symptoms that occur with gluten-intolerance.  But there are so many more!

Gluten and the Gut:

70% of our immune system is in the gut, so it is super important that we heal our guts!  I wrote a second part on this topic that deals with the impact that gluten has on the gut.  Read it here: The Truth About Gluten: Gluten's Effect on the Gut.

Do you have an autoimmune reaction, allergy, or intolerance to gluten?  Share your take on the truth about gluten in the comments below!