Gluten Free 101


What is Gluten and Why be Gluten free?

Gluten (derived from the Latin for glue) is a protein composite found in wheat and related grains. It has held the secret to baked goods for centuries. Gluten both holds dough together and provides it with elasticity. Glutens help dough rise and keep its shape and even can give the end result a chewy texture.

Gluten sounds great for bakers. How does gluten affect consumers? Millions of Americans and people all over the world are increasingly showing symptoms of IBS (or Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and Celiac Disease. The culprit? Gluten. That wonderful attribute that makes it glue, does not stop when you eat it. It settles into the small intestine where most of the nutrients from ingested food are absorbed.

How Glutens Affect Someone with Celiac Disease?

If someone with Celiac Disease eats food containing gluten, everything is normal until the gluten reaches the small intestine. The first thing that goes wrong is that the gluten causes the body — in all of us, not just those with Celiac Disease — to produce an excess of the protein zonulin. This excess causes the junctions between cells in the small intestine to open too much. All sorts of things — like toxins and gluten fragments — can get into the bloodstream, a condition known as leaky gut syndrome.

In people with celiac disease, the body sees gluten fragments as invaders — toxins that shouldn’t be there. When the body attacks these invaders, it also attacks itself, which is why celiac disease is classified as an autoimmune disease. Specifically, the body attacks the villi on the lining of the small intestine. As the villi become “blunted” they are no longer as effective in absorbing nutrients. Gluten free is an advisable way to consume food products. However, having said that, please do not consider it to be the “no brainer” solution for a healthy diet. There is a distinction between Gluten Free products and Healthy Gluten Free products.

The inner wall of the small intestine is lined with tissue covered in wrinkles or folds. From the folds, microscopic finger-like pieces of tissue called villi (Latin for “shaggy hair”) extend.

The functions of these folds, the villi, and even smaller microvilli, are to increase the amount of surface area available for the absorption of nutrients, and to limit the loss of nutrients to intestinal fauna. In some cases, this inability to absorb nutrients may be bad enough to stunt growth and weaken bones. The loss of vitamins and minerals may lead to other problems, such as anemia, osteoporosis, or growth delays in children. People who have celiac disease may have periods when their symptoms seem worse. Or symptoms may sometimes not be noticed at all. In adults, symptoms may occur at any age but most commonly occur during the 20s, 30s, and 40s. Sometimes a person who has celiac disease doesn’t have symptoms after eating foods that contain gluten. But damage to the small intestine is still occurring.

Within 2 weeks after starting a gluten-free diet, most people with celiac disease find that their symptoms improve. Symptoms should completely disappear within 3 months. But it takes up to 6 months or longer on a gluten-free diet for the villi to return to normal.

No gluten intolerance? Studies have found that following a gluten- free diet lowers the risk for lymphoma in adults.

Today, consumers are more aware of the negative effects of consuming gluten laden products, such as breads, cakes and pastas. However, they are not as knowledgeable that gluten free does not necessarily mean healthy. Eating gluten Free is a great way of avoiding lots of dietary related health problems. And to a certain extent, it is a healthy way of eating. The trick is to consume wisely. For example, A carrot is a gluten free product and a rice cookie is a gluten free product. Both gluten free, but the carrot is a whole food and has on average about 200% of vitamin A. The gluten free cookie on the other hand might be full of sugar, fat and starch. Both can claim gluten free, but they are not equal. The most important thing is to keep reading labels. Gluten free is only one check mark. Watch for the others The most important thing is to keep reading labels.