Gluten-Free, Whether You Need It or Not
All my life I have suffered from painful, sporadic stomach aches after eating pasta or wheat based meals. These stomach pains started getting so bad that I decided to see a specialist to determine the cause of my ailment. After numerous blood tests, special diets, and an endoscopy my doctor told me that I had non-celiac gluten sensitivity and was immediately put on a gluten-free diet. I had heard of celiac disease before but had never heard of this condition. According to my doctor more and more people are showing up with symptoms similar to Celiac disease but do not have the actual disease and thus medical professionals have started calling this condition non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This condition’s main quality is, just like it sounds, sensitivity to gluten products and has risen among Americans in the past years due to the increase in gluten- based products.
According to a New York Times Health Science Article, it is speculated that 1/100 Americans have Celiac disease, which is a genetic mutation that causes the inability of the human digestive system to break down the repeating patterns of amino acids found in glutenin and gliadin, which are proteins found only in gluten based products like wheat, barley, rye and oats. When the pieces of these proteins are passed through the intestine they are mistaken as foreign invaders and cause the immune system to attack them on the villi attached to the walls of the intestine, which provide the body with nutrients. The damage affects a person’s ability to absorb nutrients properly and can become malnourished no matter how much food they eat. Wheat entered the human diet only about 10,000 years ago, with the invention of farming.
“For the previous 250,000 years, man had evolved without having this very strange protein in his gut… And as a result, this is a really strange, different protein, which the human intestine cannot fully digest. Many people did not adapt to these great environmental changes, so some adverse effects related to gluten ingestion developed around that time.” Dr. Stefano Guandalini, medical director of the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center.
Over the years more and more varieties of wheat is grown containing higher levels of gluten, which helps produce the soft inside and crusty outside desirable in bread. This has caused more cases of celiac disease to emerge and now this new condition called non-celiac gluten sensitivity that has symptoms similar to celiac disease but do not have the same antibodies or intestinal damage associated with celiac disease. There is no known cause of either conditions and thus there is no prevention or cure. The only treatment is to live a life on a gluten-free diet, although it does not have to be strictly followed for those with the gluten sensitivity.
The gluten-free diet was very difficult to follow at first. You cannot eat any products containing wheat, barley or rye and sometimes oats because they can contain contaminated gluten products. Anything prepackaged is also out because even if the products themselves do not originally contain gluten they can be made in an area of a factory or company where there once was gluten products. All natural foods like fruits, vegetables, rice, corn, and potatoes are staples of the gluten-free diet. Fresh meat, poultry and fish are also fine but they can’t be breaded or made with regular gravy or sauces.
The diet is very limiting at first and I ended up losing a lot of weight because I didn’t feel comfortable eating anything. However after a while I discovered products like corn and rice based muffins, breads, pizza, and pasta. There is no beneficial difference between a regular diet and a gluten free diet for a person without the gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. In fact the muffins and breads contain less vitamins and fiber than the wheat based items but with all the same butter and sugar content. People have to be very careful when going on a gluten free diet because they often have the mentality that if it says its “Gluten-Free” then it must be healthy when in reality it still has the same fat and sugar content. Since being on the gluten-free diet my stomachaches have nearly vanished and also my seasonal allergies have been limited as well. I don’t always keep strictly to the diet but I do make a big effort to avoid the gluten-based foods in the grocery store and my stomach feels much better because of it.
Posted by Celina Keating (1)