Have you noticed gluten-free is getting a little “sexier”? For a word that sounds so weird and has been attached to its weirder-sounding counterpart, celiac disease, it’s pretty impressive that “gluten-free” is becoming a norm. In fact, there are some pretty serious and compelling reasons to consider drastically reducing or eliminating gluten from one’s diet, and there are studies to back it up. Even an old-fashioned, meat and potatoes girl like me has to break free of convention for the sake of making well-informed choices. These days, I’m making extra-careful food selections and have made some interesting discoveries about why a gluten-free diet definitely isn’t just for those with celiac disease.
As it turns out, there is a spectrum of tolerance to foods containing gluten. Celiac disease sufferers who can’t tolerate even a trace of gluten in their diet are at one end of the spectrum, and people who can eat unlimited amounts of gluten-laden foods with no problem at all are at the other. Scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Center for Celiac Research with lead investigator Dr. Alessio Fasano, M.D. have discovered and proven that a gray area lies between these two types of people with a range of levels of gluten sensitivity, a range that is caused by genes that differ in how the immune system reacts intestinally. In lay terms, the difference they’ve discovered in celiac sufferers versus gluten-sensitive people is that they all have the same symptoms in various degrees, but the sensitive group tests negatively in diagnostic bloodwork for celiac and does not suffer the celiac-identyfiying breakdown of the lining of the small intestine. In the celiac group, the gluten itself triggers an immune response that causes the intestinal breakdown and behaves almost like an allergen. The groundbreaker is that we now have proof that people in the gluten-sensitive range actually have a genetic autoimmune response that changes how their immune system responds to gluten. This makes for very similar symptoms in both types of sufferers that are caused by two very different problems though both are related to gluten consumption. Over time, untreated celiac sufferers have more troubling health consequences than those who are gluten-sensitive, but having any degree of untreated gluten intolerance eventually will produce a range of health consequences from poor to serious, and in rare cases, be potentially deadly for celiac sufferers.
By now some of you are scratching your heads and wondering why all of a sudden do people have “gluten problems” when most of us never worried about anything except maybe having too many carbs from our bread, pasta, and pancakes. There is now a valid scientific documentation from collaborative studies between The University of Maryland’s Celiac Center, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the Department of Experimental Medicine of the University of Naples in Italy, and the Institute of Food Sciences in Avellino, Italy that defines the celiac/gluten sensitive disorders, and also identifies the source– our body’s inablilty to completely meet the evolutionary challenge introduced by wheat-farming 10,000 years ago (yes, 10,000). The change in human wheat consumption has been dictated by industry rather than nature, and not all of us are capable of of handling wheat protein or large amounts of it. Similar proteins are also found in barley, rye, and other foods depending on how they’re prepared. Moreover, today’s agricultural industry breeds grains to have more of these potentially dangerous proteins in them. Most Europeans suffer from gluten sensitivity issues at some point over their lives because their diet is so high in gluten. (Take note of that heavy contributions to these studies are being made from Italian researchers.) Now, Americans are looking at a similar future as gluten consumption rises and the global agricultural industry breeds a higher concentration of potentially toxic wheat protein into our wheat. Too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing, and apparently, nature hasn’t put more proteins in wheat for a good reason.
There is also some very compelling news about gluten sensitivity related to autism and schizophrenia. In addition to scientists now looking for simple ways to screen for gluten-sensitivity that can aid treatment and diagnosis, they are also looking into how this information can be applied to a treating autistic and schizophrenic patients whose conditions worsen when exposed to gluten. Studies are planned to test the theory that autistic children have a high incidence of specific intestinal autoimmune disorders. This is very important information for parents of autistic children and schizophrenic children (approximately 18-22% of tested schizophrenics are gluten sensitive) who can help alleviate some of their children’s behavioral, mental, and emotional problems by feeding them a gluten-free diet.
So, now you might be saying these facts sound important, but you feel fine, haven’t had any problem eating anything (in fact, you can eat everything) and you just want to know if you can lose weight eating a gluten-free diet. Well, here’s the deal. People on gluten-free diets consume more fruits, vegetables, beans, meats, and nuts. They aren’t eating cake, cookies, bread, pasta, or pizza unless they’re gluten-free, in which case it’s recommended to have a reasonable portion of those foods based on nutrition and individual caloric needs (in other words, normal eating). Overindulgence of gluten-free foods will produce weight gain like anything else can when we have too much. So, if you want to lose weight, you can cut down on foods that contain gluten, but you don’t have to consider yourself in need of being gluten-free. As always, a balanced and healthy diet and plenty of water will keep you (drumroll) healthy!
Please see these related links for a list of gluten-free foods, symptoms of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, and for additional information on the studies mentioned above:
- http://www.facebook.com/BRYNandDANES for delicious gluten-free smoothies, salads and more; new g-free menu items coming soon!
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