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Gluten is a protein naturally present in some grains. Most sources claim it is safe for everyone except those with celiac disease. However, some health experts believe that gluten is harmful to most individuals.
According to a
This article explains what gluten is and how it can affect a person’s health.
Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains, including wheat, rye, spelt, and barley.
Of the gluten-containing grains, wheat is by far the most common.
When flour mixes with water, the gluten proteins form a sticky network that has a glue-like consistency.
This glue-like property makes the dough elastic and gives bread the ability to rise during baking. It also provides a chewy, satisfying texture.
Interestingly, the name gluten derives from this glue-like property of wet dough.
Most people can tolerate gluten with no adverse effects.
However, it can cause problems for people with certain health conditions.
Celiac disease, also spelled as coeliac disease, is the most severe form of gluten intolerance. It affects about 1% of the population.
It is an autoimmune disorder in which the body treats gluten as a foreign invader. The immune system
The most common symptoms of celiac disease are:
- digestive discomfort
- tissue damage in the small intestines
- skin rashes
- unexplained weight loss
- foul-smelling feces
For this reason, doctors often find it challenging to diagnose celiac disease. In fact, in one study,
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity
Many people do not test positive for celiac disease but still react negatively to gluten.
This condition is non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Researchers do not currently know how many people have this condition, but some estimate it to be in the range of
Symptoms of gluten sensitivity include:
- stomach pain
However, some experts do not believe that this is a legitimate condition. They think that substances other than gluten cause these adverse effects.
One study looked at 392 people with self-diagnosed gluten intolerance and investigated whether they improved on a gluten-free diet.
The results showed that only 26 people had celiac disease, while two individuals had a wheat allergy. Only 27 of the remaining 364 people received a diagnosis of gluten sensitivity. That means that of all the participants who thought they had gluten intolerance, only 55 people (14%) had gluten issues.
Therefore, many people who think they have gluten intolerance may develop symptoms due to other causes.
Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive disorder that causes symptoms, including:
- abdominal pain
- diarrhea or constipation, or both
IBS is a chronic condition, but many people can manage their symptoms with diet, lifestyle changes, and stress management techniques.
For an estimated
People with a wheat allergy may still consume other foods that contain gluten, such as barley or rye, without experiencing an adverse reaction.
Digestive discomfort is the
To determine the cause of the discomfort, people can ask their doctor to check for celiac disease first.
- Blood tests: Several blood tests screen for antibodies. A common one is the tTG-IgA test. If that is positive, the doctor may recommend a tissue biopsy to confirm the results.
- Biopsy from small intestine: A health professional takes a small tissue sample from the small intestine, which a lab analyzes for damage.
A person should undertake both of the above tests while following a gluten-containing diet. Performing the blood test while on a gluten-free diet will yield a false negative. This is because there is no gluten in the system to trigger antibody production.
If a person thinks they may have celiac disease, they should consult their doctor before trying a gluten-free diet.
If the person does not have celiac disease, the best way to find out if they are sensitive to gluten is to follow a strict gluten-free diet for a few weeks to see if symptoms improve.
Then, they will need to introduce gluten back into their diet to see if their symptoms return.
If the person’s symptoms do not improve on a gluten-free diet and do not get worse when they reintroduce gluten, then the cause is probably something other than gluten.
A gluten-free diet test is not a definite way to diagnose the issue, and people should not try this on their own. If a person suspects they may have a problem, they should seek guidance from a healthcare professional who can test for celiac disease or allergies.
Some people may find starting a gluten-free diet rather challenging.
The first thing a person needs to do is read the labels on everything they eat and drink.
Gluten, especially wheat, is an ingredient in a surprising number of foods. Gluten is also present in barley, rye, and any products that contain these ingredients, such as rye bread.
In this diet, people should eat mainly healthy whole foods, as most whole foods are naturally gluten-free. Avoid processed food, cereals, and grains that contain gluten.
Several grains and seeds are naturally gluten free and available to purchase online. These include:
However, while oats are naturally gluten free, cross-contamination can occur if a facility processes oats alongside other gluten-containing grains such as wheat. Therefore, it is safest only to consume oats with a gluten-free label.
There are plenty of healthy whole foods that are naturally gluten free, including:
- fish and seafood
- dairy products
- fats, such as oils and butter
It is generally better for people to choose naturally gluten-free food rather than processed gluten-free products. These tend to be low in nutrients and high in added sugar or refined grains.
Most beverages are also gluten free, except beer unless labeled gluten free.
Many people cannot digest these properly, which
There is some evidence that people with “gluten sensitivity” may be sensitive to FODMAPs, not gluten.
A 2018 study looked at the effect of fructans, a type of FODMAP, in 59 people who self-reported gluten sensitivity but did not have celiac disease. Researchers found that a fructans diet caused significantly higher gastrointestinal symptoms than gluten consumption. This indicates that FODMAPs may be the culprit for some people who think they react negatively to gluten.
Doctors may recommend that people with IBS follow a low-FODMAP diet. However, many people find this difficult to do, and if a person does not do this correctly, this diet may lead to several nutrient deficiencies. Therefore, people should follow this diet with the help of a healthcare professional.
Sources of gluten in the diet include:
- cakes, cookies, and pastries
Many processed foods may also contain gluten. Anyone who wants to avoid gluten will need to read labels carefully.
However, for people with certain health conditions, removing gluten from the diet can make a huge difference.
If people cut out gluten products and do not properly replace them with other carbs in the diet, they could be at risk for inadequate fiber, calories, and B-vitamin intake. A person should always consult with a healthcare professional before trying a gluten-free diet.
People should also make sure to choose healthy foods. A gluten-free label does not automatically mean that a food is healthy, and gluten-free processed food is still processed food.
Gluten is a group of proteins found in grains. Many popular foods often contain gluten, including bread and pasta.
In recent years, many people have become concerned about consuming gluten and may believe it can cause health problems.
However, research suggests that gluten is safe for most people and that other conditions may cause the symptoms that some may attribute to consuming gluten.
A person should always consult with a healthcare professional before adopting a gluten-free diet.