About a third of people currently avoid gluten. Are you one of them? Should you be?
For a movement that has gained so much traction in the culture, it sure seems like most people don't really know that much about what gluten is, and how it affects us.
We'll give you everything you need to know in order to decide what's right for you.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in grains like barley, rye, wheat, and spelt. In baking, gluten gives dough elasticity, and allows bread to rise.
Sounds pretty simple right? The problem is that gluten can interact with our bodies in some undesirable ways. When gluten consumption creates adverse effects, it's called...
Gluten sensitivity occurs when the body inaccurately identifies gluten in the digestive tract as being caused by foreign invaders such as bacteria. The immune system response creates a range of symptoms in gluten sensitive people that include: Bloating, diarrhea, stomach pain, and fatigue.
Gluten sensitivity (also known as "gluten intolerance") does not have clearly defined diagnostic parameters, so info about prevalence isn't as reliable as it could be. But the studies that have attempted to nail it down indicate that around 6-8% of the population is gluten sensitive.
For some people, gluten is particularly bad news. We're talking about those with Celiac Disease.
Celiac Disease sufferers are plagued by the same immune system response that gluten sensitive people experience, but with Celiac Disease, gluten consumption causes the immune system to target some of the body's own cells.
This occurs because some of the cells in the digestive tract contain an enzyme that is similar to the gluten protein. Because the immune system attacks the body itself, Celiac Disease is considered an autoimmune disorder.
1-2% of the population will be diagnosed. Symptoms include various digestive issues, nutrient deficiencies, fatigue, and increased susceptibility to a variety of other diseases.
What About You?
Okay, so you probably get the hype behind the gluten-free movement. But does it matter for you in particular?
Based purely on the current info about the prevalence of Celiac Disease, and gluten sensitivity, you may not be that alarmed. And that might be just fine.
But before you dismiss the gluten-free trend, it's worth considering that the impacts of gluten are not yet completely understood. While current research indicates that under 10% of people have identifiable gluten disorders, consumption may have subtler impacts for more people.
Why do we think that? Because some studies have shown that as high as 29% of us have antibodies to gluten in our system, indicating an immune response on some level. And about 40% of us carry the two genes (HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8) that cause gluten sensitivity.
We recommend doing a one-month trial with a gluten-free diet to see how it affects you. You should especially consider trying to eliminate gluten if you suffer from digestion issues on a regular basis. Take careful note of how the absence of gluten changes things for you.
If you see improvements, then you've determined that there's real benefit for you in a gluten-free diet. If not, then there's probably one less thing to worry about with those delicious dinner rolls.
For a guide on how to avoid gluten, check out this resource from "Gluten-Free Living.