Gluten has gotten a lot of bad press over the last few years. It’s said to cause inflammation, digestive ailments, and a whole lot more besides. There are countless stories about gluten free diet benefits from those who have cut it out completely.
But is it actually as bad as many suggest? If so, why is gluten bad for you? Let’s examine this issue a lot more carefully and see what the real truth is. After all, it can be difficult to avoid gluten, so this kind of diet may not be all that simple for us.
Let’s start by learning more about what gluten is before we look at whether or not you might need to consider cutting it out.
What Is Gluten?
To put it very simply, gluten is a protein found in certain grains. You’ll find gluten in wheat, barley, triticale, and oats (which are primarily gluten free but are put in this group because they more often than not get contaminated with gluten from other grains).
What is gluten made of? Glutenin and gliadin are the two main proteins that make up gluten and are known as plant storage proteins. Plant storage proteins are found in the endosperm of cereals and perform an important role in storing nutrients they need to grow.
These proteins also help the food to keep its shape. That’s why it’s so important in baked goods – it helps bind the ingredients together and form a nice elastic dough. In fact, in wheat flour, gluten usually makes up between 75% and 85% of all the protein content.
It’s what gives bread that nice chewy texture and is also responsible for the bread being able to rise as it traps gas during kneading and the rising process. That’s why gluten free bread tends to be less light and fluffy and why it doesn’t rise quite as much during baking.
Gluten is important in baking. There are substitutes, but you’ll never get quite the same results. That said, you don’t have to give up bread completely, you just need to change the ingredients that you use.
What Foods Do You Avoid on a Gluten Free Diet?
The usual suspects are wheat, rye, barley, triticale, and oats and any products made using these grains. So, look out for gluten in the following:
- Baked goods
- Salad dressing
- Malted barley
- Malted shakes
- Malt extracts
- Malt flavorings
- Malt vinegar
- Malt syrup
- Brewer’s yeast
- Some food coloring
Uses of Gluten Outside of the Food Industry
On an interesting side note, gluten is also a good binding agent, and so it may be found in some of your favorite beauty products. So, if you want to use only gluten free products, check the list of ingredients in shampoos and lipsticks as well.
According to a study published in 2018, the quantities of wheat gluten in these products would not trigger a hypersensitive reaction or cause you to become more sensitive to it as long as the peptides in it are restricted to a particular atomic weight.
That means that products containing excessive amounts of gluten could potentially cause issues in those who are gluten intolerant. The general verdict then would be that it’s probably safer to avoid beauty products that contain gluten.
This may seem like a step too far, but it might be important for those battling with celiac disease to take note of. We know that you’re not going to munch down on a tube of lipstick anytime soon, but small amounts are ingested every time you wear it, so it’s better to be on the safe side with this one.
The Zuzu Luxe range from Gabriel Cosmetics and the Eco Bella range are two companies that ensure that their makeup has no gluten in it. Similar companies include Boscia, Juice Beauty, and Aubrey Organics.
How Do You Know If You Are Gluten Intolerant?
Tests can be performed to diagnose full-blown celiac disease, but it’s more difficult to diagnose intolerance of gluten. The surest way of doing so, according to Medical News Today, is to cut foods with gluten in them completely and to see if your symptoms improve.
Celiac disease is the most serious disease and requires that you cut gluten out completely or risk damaging your digestive system. It is also fairly rare and will affect around 1% of the population.
Gluten sensitivity, it might surprise you to learn, is not quite as common as you might think. It affects up to around 13% of the population, though the numbers can vary a lot. This is also quite difficult to diagnose because the symptoms may come hours after eating a meal.
That’s why an elimination diet is one of the best ways to find out if gluten is an issue for you. Once the symptoms have abated, you can gradually start adding foods with gluten in them back in and see if the symptoms return. The symptoms can be similar to that of wheat sensitivity, so that can also muddy the waters.
Gluten Intolerance Symptoms
Digestive Tract Symptoms
- Bloating is one of the most common symptoms and is present in 87% of cases.
- 83% of suffers will experience abdominal pain and discomfort.
- Diarrhea affects around about half of all the sufferers as well.
- Constipation is another potential symptom in about a quarter of all cases.
- Unexplained weight loss occurs in about 25% of all cases.
- Headaches might be another symptom and occur in just over half of all cases.
- 38% of sufferers say that they experience “brain fog.”
- Arms and legs may feel numb. This could be as a result of celiac disease affecting the neurological system.
- Depression could also indicate a gluten allergy, though it’s only present in 18% of all cases.
- Anxiety occurs in 39% of cases.
- About 31% of sufferers will experience joint and muscle pain or fibromyalgia that improves on a gluten free diet plan.
- Around 29% of sufferers develop a skin rash.
- Iron-deficient anemia is a symptom often linked to sensitivity.
- Fatigue is an indicator and occurs in 64% of cases.
As you can see, the symptoms are very varied and can easily be attributed to other factors. That’s why it can be so difficult to pin down the actual causes. Each symptom on its own is no cause for concern – if you have a few of them, it might be time to consider getting tested for gluten sensitivity.
Why Is Gluten Is Bad for You?
If you have celiac disease, this can be a major issue and potentially life-threatening. Some people with a violent form of celiac disease even wear special medical bracelets. Sensitivity can present with many of the same symptoms and, while it won’t kill you, it could make you feel miserable.
The gluten itself is not unhealthy. The problem is that some people’s bodies can’t handle processing it. In gluten intolerant individuals, it is treated like an antigen and the immune system responds accordingly but it also attacks its own cells. This autoimmune reaction leads to chronic inflammation and several associated health issues.
It can take as long as three years to recover completely from a disease related to gluten.
What Does Gluten Do to Your Gut?
Nothing much if your body can process it. It is only where you are sensitive or have celiac disease that you’ll have real issues. As mentioned before, it can cause an autoimmune response, and that, in turn, can lead to dangerous levels of inflammation that damage the gastrointestinal wall.
It can also cause digestive upsets as the body tries to rid itself of the antigens. Expect gas, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps as a result.
Is a Gluten Free Diet Right for Me?
Naturally, if you feel that gluten intolerance is something you are experiencing, you’ll want to consider cutting out gluten. If you do, you’ll need to be sure that you’re still getting enough fiber, and that you eat a healthy and nutritious diet.
If you’re older than 65, be sure to get enough fiber. Constipation in the elderly can be exacerbated by not getting enough dietary fiber and also by stress. Following a healthy diet when you’re over 65 is especially important. And, considering that we at MedAlertHelp have compiled a mega-list of senior discounts for you, there’s no reason not to supplement your diet.
Since the reaction to gluten can damage your gastrointestinal wall, your ability to absorb nutrients might be affected, so you can become deficient in vitamins, particularly the following:
Minerals you may want to supplement:
Perhaps you’re still wondering what are the gluten free benefits and whether or not it’s worth making the sacrifice. We’ll go over the benefits properly in the next section, but the sacrifice is not as bad as you might think.
You also need to ensure that your source your food from reputable suppliers as the food might be contaminated. Overall, though, as long as you stick to more natural, whole foods, you should be okay.
Could we benefit from a gluten free diet? When it comes to gluten free statistics, around about 3.1 million Americans follow this diet, only 19% of whom have cut out gluten because of an intolerance. It seems that not everyone is convinced about the benefits of this lifestyle choice since 13% of Americans believe that cutting out gluten is unhealthy.
What Are the Benefits of Going Gluten Free?
For those who have a sensitivity, there are some benefits to this kind of diet. These include:
- Fewer digestive upsets and easier digestion
- Extra energy
- Weight loss
- Helps to improve the absorption of nutrients
- Is a great way to overcome those brain fog symptoms
Gluten Foods to Avoid
The following foods should be cut out completely:
- Tortillas made with wheat flour
- Graham crackers
- Ramen noodles
- Breaded foods
- Bulgar wheat
- Wheat flour
- Bouillon cubes
Interestingly enough, a lot of people make the mistake that wheat free and gluten free are the same thing. They aren’t, so check wheat free foods to see what they’ve replaced the wheat with.
What Can Gluten Free People Eat?
Now, to the question that all newbies are dying to have answered. You might be surprised to learn that there are a lot of foods that you can eat. The difference being, mostly, that more refined and processed foods are going to be excluded. Check out the list of foods that you can eat below and tell me you’re still going to feel deprived once you get used to eating this way.
List of naturally gluten free foods:
- Beans, peas, and legumes
As you can see, there is still a lot of food that you can eat. Need a few more options? Then check out our list of gluten free grains and substitute products:
- Brown rice
- White rice
- Almond meal
- Coconut flour
- Guar gum
- Pea flour
- Potato flour
- Soy flour
As you can see from our list of gluten free foods and snacks, it’s easy enough to find substitutes for gluten, without having to resort to a bunch of expensive replacement foods. You can opt for this option without having to spend an absolute fortune.
Celebs and Gluten Free Statistics
Contrary to popular belief, this kind of diet dates back to the 1940s. It is only over the last few years that it’s had such an upsurge in popularity, though. Currently, about a quarter of those aged 18–24 try to eat gluten free foods.
As a society, we are embracing this style of eating more and more. Before 2009, you’d be hard-pressed to find something that didn’t have gluten in it listed on a restaurant menu. Between 2009 and 2012, the number of menu listings for gluten free foods increased by 275%.
Sales in this area almost doubled between 2011 and 2016 and the market has shown year-on-year growth since then. So, if you’re wondering, “Should I go gluten free?” now would be a good time. The market is well-established.
Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga are two examples of celebs who follow this diet out of choice. Zoe Deschanel is a celebrity with full-blown celiac disease. She has to follow this kind of eating plan. There are a good few other celebs who also follow the diet for health reasons. Novak Djokovic became the world number one tennis player soon after discovering his gluten sensitivity. These celebs and sports stars swear by gluten free meals and credit the diet with transforming their health and well-being.
59% of women now agree that paying more for gluten free options is worth it. It’s also a popular option for those wanting to lose weight. Almost a third of those following the diet are doing so because they want to drop a little weight.
From a health perspective, the incidences of celiac disease are on the rise. It is believed that the rate of diagnosed incidences of celiac disease could hit the 50–60% mark by the end of this year. In the States alone, 1 in 100 people have it. I’ll bet that the gluten free pasta option is looking pretty good right now, isn’t it? You never know – you might have celiac disease and not realize it yet.
The incidence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a lot higher – about six to ten times higher. It’s estimated that up to about 6% of people might have this form of gluten-sensitivity. The stats could be higher than we realize. Science has linked 55 diseases to the proteins found in gluten.
Is It Easy to Find Gluten Free Snacks?
It is rather, and you don’t have to make a special trip to the health-food store – most grocery stores will now carry these products. We do advise you to check the list of foods that you can eat above carefully. A lot of manufacturers mark their foods as having no gluten to get a premium price. The catch is that they may do this with foods that don’t naturally have gluten in them.
If you’re in the United States, you’ll find following this diet is a lot easier. There are a lot of gluten free options on offer in the States. Sales of these products, along with the free-form food market is projected to be worth 23.9 billion there by 2020.
If you have one of the following stores in your area, you’re bound to find some of the best gluten free foods:
- The Kroger Company
- Whole foods
- Trader Joe’s
- Super Valu
- Ahold Delhaize
- And don’t forget, you can also order online from Amazon
Be sure to keep a lookout for gluten free pizza – it’s surprisingly tasty. As to the importance of stocking glutenless snacks? 51% of people surveyed said that they would be more likely to buy these products if the stores had dedicated aisles for them.
What About Eating Out?
There are many ways to find restaurants that prepare meals according to gluten free recipes such as:
- Celiac Travel’s free restaurant cards in over 50 languages.
- The Gluten Free Restaurant Card app offers their online version of the cards in 40 languages.
- Allergy Translation allows you to customize your cards and offers 43 language variants.
- Triumph Dining allows you to buy laminated restaurant cards in 10 languages.
How Can I Stay Gluten Free While Traveling?
It might take a bit more forward-planning on your part, but there are plenty of options for travelers as well. You could:
- Find a local app to help you find restaurants that serve these meals.
- You could also look online to find the right places to eat or get food from.
- Be careful with the snacks that you pack for the journey – just check whether or not any customs restrictions apply.
- Order the specialized meal from the airline.
- Pack herbal teas to drink.
- Download printable restaurant cards in 54 languages for free from Celiac Disease.
- Alternatively, load the Gluten Free Restaurant Card app on your phone to help you out overseas.
- Do some research into gluten free desserts, so that you can always be assured of something sweet when you need it.
The Best Gluten Free Brands
- Complete Start
- Happy Campers
- Cocoa Libre
Some Great Products to Try Out
- Rudi’s Gluten Free Multigrains
- RXBAR Peanut Chocolate Bar
- Caulipower Margherita Pizza
- Primizie Ancient Grains Crispbreads
- Dr. McDougall’s Organic Superfood Mega Omega Oatmeal
- Pure Organic Vanilla Almond Ancient Grains Bar
- Saffron Road Beef Bulgogi with Brown Rice
- You can also lots of gluten free beer options out there
Hopefully, this post has helped you answer the question, “Why is gluten bad for some people?” From purely a health perspective, cutting back on gluten could benefit everyone if it means them cutting some of the highly processed foods out of their diets.
This may not be the simplest diet to follow at first. You have to start checking food labels carefully and giving up foods like bread and pasta can be tough. If you keep the gluten free diet benefits firmly in mind, though, and persevere through the first month or so, it becomes a whole lot easier.