Gluten sensitivities have gained a great deal of attention the last couple years. Celiac disease affects about 1 person in every 100 and is the full-blown allergy to wheat. Up until last year, celiac was thought to be all there was to wheat allergies, but we now know there are many more levels than just one to this problem.
Alessio Fasano M.D., director of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research released a publication that transformed the rigid, previous view of gluten intolerance into a spectrum of gluten sensitivities.
“With gluten sensitivity, we’re standing at the same crossroads that we encountered with celiac disease almost 20 years ago,” says Fasano. “We’re just beginning to understand how it affects certain individuals and are now in the early stages of discovering its molecular mechanisms. We do know that it’s a different condition from celiac disease, which is what patients have been telling us for some time now.”
Fasano estimates that at least 6% of the general population suffers from this sensitivity to gluten. These undiagnosed individuals may feel lethargic and unmotivated. Other symptoms include acne, bloating, diarrhea, cramping, constipation, and rashes. The solution is simple; remove sources of gluten from the diet. This percentage is fairly small, which means many of those who are adopting a gluten-free diet may not need to eat this way, but there are plenty of advantages in cutting back on gluten-rich foods even if you don’t have celiac or gluten sensitivity.
A gluten-free diet means avoiding most processed foods which are unhealthy anyway. It means fewer calories and less refined sugars and carbohydrates. Eating less gluten usually leads people down a path lined with healthy proteins, fruits, and vegetables. This is a sensible direction to be heading. This diet requires some nutritional awareness as gluten can be found everywhere. Gluten is a protein in grains such as wheat, barley, or rye. Pastas, cereals, and breads are significant sources of gluten, but gluten can also be found as a filler or preservative in other foods.
Fortunately, many healthy and delicious foods are naturally gluten-free. Beans, seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and many grains and starches, like flax, millet, quinoa, and rice, don’t contain gluten. Living with gluten intolerance or sensitivity requires diligence in scouring labels and adjusting habits and taste.
Luckily many restaurants, food suppliers, and supplement companies are catching on. Whey protein can have peptides from wheat added, but there are many natural protein powders that do not contain any gluten. Rice, pea, hemp, amaranth, quinoa, chia, and cranberry proteins are naturally free of any gluten molecules. These can be found as individual protein powders, as blends of multiple ingredients, or many can be purchased as whole foods. Quinoa, amaranth, and chia make a protein-rich addition to any diet while providing fiber, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats that protect the heart and reduce inflammation.