What’s all this hype about gluten?

What’s all this hype about gluten? It seems every label in the supermarket trumpets its content’s gluten-free status, even something obvious like a bag of carrots. Is gluten inherently bad? Can it make you sick? Yes and no.

Gluten is Latin for glue – a naturally occurring substance found in wheat, spelt, barley and rye that lends elasticity and stickiness to their textures. It is an important source of carbohydrate and protein in human diets and often can be metabolized by our digestive tract without a problem.

However, approximately 1% of the population has celiac disease, an autoimmune condition in which patients experience a range of problems including bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, joint pain and rashes after the consumption of gluten. There are blood and biopsy tests to diagnose this, however the results are not reliable if the patient has already implemented a gluten-free diet.

Unfortunately, there is no cure yet for celiac disease, but it can be managed by avoiding the above grains. Celiac patients also must be aware of the contents of products they apply externally, as gluten is often an additive in lip glosses, shampoos and other commonly used toiletry items.

Anecdotally, some individuals without celiac disease who experience these symptoms are thought to have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. No diagnostic methods for this condition are currently implemented on a large scale. Individuals allergic to wheat experience rashes, swelling or respiratory distress upon exposure. Both of these disorders are considered separate from celiac disease.

In summary, you needn’t avoid gluten if none of the above symptoms apply to you. Whole wheat products and many European dishes with barley, spelt and rye add fiber to our diets, promoting bowel regularity and satiety. If you can enjoy these in moderation, great! If not, come speak with me.