I never quite understood what gluten was til my wife came into my life — she has celiac disease, which hasn’t resulted in huge changes in my life, but now unless I’m buying just for myself, I try to be a bit more aware of the breads and grains that I buy: No more whole wheat purchases for family consumption! Not a big deal, by any means, and it keeps my wife’s insides from tormenting her.
Today, the website I Waste So Much Time shared this infographic talking about what gluten is; from it, I learned that celiac disease is quite a bit more serious than I understood it to be. I didn’t realize that actual damage could be done to a person’s body if they have the disease and eat gluten; prior to now, I always took it as something akin to lactose intolerance or a food allergy that causes indigestion. The more you know…
Here’s a transcript of the infographic:
You’ve probably seen it on all manner of food at this point. “GLUTEN FREE.”
You’ve heard people swear by it. Maybe you swear by it. Or maybe you’ve made fun of those who do.
But it seems a lot of people abstaining from gluten or making fun of those who do don’t have any idea what it actually is. “Bad for you?” “A food thing?”
Gluten is a combination of two proteins found in some grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. Glutenin + gliadin = gluten. Not ride, potatoes, or corn. It’s not a “carb.”
Its molecular composition is what makes dough stretchy.
Gluten is nota poison. It’s just a protein. Unless you have Celiac Disease,a rare autoimmune disorder of the small intestine.
When somebody with Celiac Disease eats gluten their body mounts an immune response that damages the structures responsible for absorbing nutrients.
Celiac Disease is genetic, and only accounts for 1%of people worldwide. Yet somewhere around 18 millionAmericans report having a gluten sensitivity. Six times more than there should be.
“I can’t eat gluten…”
“Oh, I totally get that too! My tummy aches whenever I eat bagels.”
“Uh, no. I could actually die of malnutrition.”
“I know RIGHT?!”
What could be accounting for these numbers?
Sometimes, people mistake a wheat allergy for gluten intolerance. Wheat is one of the top eight food allergens in the United States.
- TREE NUTS
It differs from Celiac Disease in that reactions can occur from contact alone, such as inhaling wheat flour.
But in cases where Celiac and allergies are ruled out, doctors may diagnose a Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity.
NCGS doesn’t have any good biomarkers, so it isn’t well understood as an illness.
In 2011, Peter Gibson, a gastroenterologist at Monash University, conducted a study that found that gluten-containing diets can cause gastrointestinal distress in people without Celiac Disease.
[This secured] gluten as the western world’s boogeyman protein of choice, and boosting the gluten-free industry.
Only in 2013, Gibson performed a more rigorous study and found “…absolutely no specific response to gluten.” You know science is working when a scientist can prove themselves wrong.
What gives? The answer may lie in the “nocebo effect” in which an inert substance causes harm to a patient. NOCEBO: From Latin “I shall harm.”
People who self-diagnose as gluten insensitive may expect to feel bad when told they are eating gluten, and therefore… …feel bad.
“I knew it! They’re faking!”
Not so fast! Scientists are currently studying a group of hard-to-digest substances known together as “FODMAPs“:
So while gluten may not be the culprit, it doesn’t mean the problem is all their heads.
In the meantime, the gluten-free food market has grown by leaps and bounds since Gibson’s initial study. And while it’s a difficult market to define, most estimates place it squarely in the BILLIONS of dollars.
Fad or not, this has had a positive impact for people with celiac disease who now have a plethora of gluten-free products to choose from.
Even if some of it never had gluten in the first place.
Gluten-free diets aren’t necessarily healthier than a normal, balanced diet.
As companies may replace whole wheat grains with refined grains that are low in nutrients.
Baked goods may also contain more sugar to make up for the loss of doughy stretchiness. Also, they’re more expensive.
So before you hop on the gluten-free bandwagon, it’s important to consult your doctor.
And if you think you may have a gluten intolerance, getting tested for Celiac Disease or a wheat allergy is the only way to know for sure.
So eat healthy with the right information—or at least the current right information.