What Is Gluten And Should I Eat A Gluten Free Diet?
Is A Gluten Free Diet Better?
“Gluten free diet” is a term that has swept many us up in a whirlwind. But is it just that, just some term and fad that has no legs and will soon be history?
I ask this question because people have been eating grains that included gluten for thousands of years, and it seems like all of a sudden that it is bad for us. If gluten is bad for us, has it always been that way or has something changed in grains? For instance, wheat is a heavily genetically modified grain (GMO) and does the change in its genes play a role in gluten being bad for us?
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a prolamin protein found in the mature seeds of these cereal grasses: wheat (common or bread wheat, durum wheat, farro, kamut, einkorn, emmer, spelt, and triticale) and related grain species that include barley and rye.
Sometimes the term is associated with rice (glutinous rice), but rice protein is not actually a gluten. Oats on the other hand I have found to be tricky in defining. Oats are often contaminated with gluten because oats often come in contact with gluten grains at some time during the production of oats, which can be during the planting, harvesting, or refining of the oats.
Oats and other gluten grains are often processed in the same facilities, but you can find oats that have a “gluten free” sticker on the package and these oats are not supposed to have gluten in them because their processing keeps them away from other grains. But this doesn’t solve all of the issues with oats.
Gluten is a group of prolamin storage proteins that make dough elastic, which helps it rise and keep its shape. Gluten in wheat is called gliadin, in barley is called hordein, in rye is called secalin, in corn is called zein, and in sorghum is called kafirin. Oats are a bit different in that the majority of their storage protein is a globulin or legume-like protein called avenalin. Oats do contain a minor prolamin protein called avenin. Why is this important?
Dangers Of Gluten
Under normal circumstances people can tolerate gluten (prolamin), but it is dangerous to people who are genetically predisposed with celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder to gluten in the small intestine.
This reaction causes an inflammatory reaction and attack of the villi ( finger-like projections that absorb nutrients) of the small intestine which then interferes with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream. Severe celiac disease leads to pale, loose and greasy stool and weight loss do to the body’s inability to absorb nutrients.
Though oat’s avenin is a promalin, some recent studies suggest that oats are not problematic for people who suffer from celiac disease. Previous studies have shown that the avenin in oats caused celiac disease but recent studies indicate that it was the cross contamination from wheat, barley, and rye that caused celiac disease.
This gets a little confusing because a small percentage of people tested for reaction specifically to avenin did show a sensitivity to avenin, so the avenin may have caused celiac disease and not the cross contamination. There is still controversy as to whether avenin contributes to celiac disease, which may be due to there being different amounts of gluten present in different cultivars of oats. If I suffered from celiac disease, I would treat oats as a gluten containing food. Celiac disease was once thought to be rare but now studies indicate that it may affect 1 in 133 Americans.
Celiac disease involves the flattening of the villi in the small intestine which leads malabsorption of nutrients. People can have a sensitivity to gluten that does not result in the flattening of the villi, but instead results in what is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Symptoms include bloating, abdominal discomfort or pain, diarrhea, muscular disturbances and bone or joint pain.
Tests done on blood samples from a century ago, indicate that celiac disease and gluten sensitivity is on the rise. Something is causing this rise in gluten sensivity. Some blame the wheat, and I agree. Common wheat or bread wheat is the modern wheat we mostly consume and it is a heavily genetically modified crop and contains higher levels of gluten. There is also no telling how the genetic modifications done to wheat effect our bodies.
My diet does not consist of much wheat or other grains, and is an alkaline diet that consists mainly of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and some legumes. You can find a gluten free food list by following this nutritional guide and avoid the grain section. Occasionally I do eat organic spelt bread sandwiches and it doesn’t appear to affect me negatively. Because celiac disease and gluten sensitivity or on the rise and haven’t always been this way, I think GMO wheat is the problem.
Foods That Contain Gluten
- Bread Wheat
- Durum Wheat
- Graham Flour
- Wheat Germ
- Wheat Bran
- White Flour
- Flour Tortillas
Foods that are usually made with wheat: