To Gluten or Not to Gluten…

Gluten by any other name is still glutenGluten is one of the health topics that you can’t escape hearing about today. More and more items in the grocery store are emblazoned with “Gluten-Free” tags. There are even “gluten-free” dating sites for those singles that are specifically seeking a soul mate who also can’t tolerate the ingestion of wheat products.

Despite the onslaught of attention to the subject, many people are still unclear as to what gluten actually is and why it might be bad for them. We’ll try to bring some clarity to the topic, starting with describing what gluten is.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein in wheat and some other grains, such as rye and barley. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture. It’s also in many products that you would never suspect to contain gluten such as candy, lunch meat, soy sauce, cosmetics, hair products, and other dermatological preparations.

Why is gluten “bad”?

For people with Celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that affects about 1% of the population, eating gluten triggers an immune response in the small intestine. Over time, that reaction produces inflammation that damages the small intestine’s lining and prevents absorption of nutrients (malabsorption). The intestinal damage can cause weight loss, bloating and sometimes diarrhea. Eventually, the brain, nervous system, bones, liver and other organs can be deprived of vital nourishment.1

It is also thought by some that many (if not most) people have at least a small adverse reaction to gluten, called gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance. There are a range of reported negative responses, from minor symptoms like sinus problems and gas, to severe symptoms such as unexplained pain, anemia, depression or anxiety, seizures, osteoporosis, infertility, canker sores, rash, migraines, irregular menstrual periods, poor teeth enamel or numbness in the hands or feet.2

Does everyone need to avoid gluten?

Maybe not. Peter H.R. Green, MD, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, told WebMD. “The market for gluten-free products is exploding. Why exactly we don’t know. Many people may just perceive that a gluten-free diet is healthier…unless people are very careful, a gluten-free diet can lack vitamins, minerals, and fiber,” says Green.

But maybe so. It is possible that a gluten-free diet can help with weight loss. A study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry supported the beneficial effects of gluten-free diets in reducing adiposity gain, inflammation and insulin resistance in mice. The researchers concluded that, “data suggests that diet gluten exclusion should be tested as a new dietary approach to prevent the development of obesity and metabolic disorders.”3

However, it is important that people who choose to avoid gluten do not rely solely on gluten-free packaged foods and think that they will automatically lose weight. Those foods can contain just as many, or more, calories, sugars, and saturated fats. Obviously that will not help with weight loss. Gluten-free packaged products can be used in moderation, but, as always, whole food is best.

Why would someone who does not have Celiac Disease want to forgo eating gluten?

As mentioned above, the proteins in gluten are harder to digest than in other grains4, While most of our guts can handle it, one theory, though not scientifically proven, is that those indigestible proteins can wreak havoc in any digestive system that is not perfectly healthy. Because few, if any, of us actually get perfectly balanced nutrition, the chance is high that many people other than just those with Celiac Disease may suffer from “leaky gut syndrome”, which is intestinal permeability thought to be caused at least partially by diet.5

A leaky gut is dangerous because our intestines actually contain more immune cells than the entire rest of our body.6 If our gut is leaky or “hyperpermeable”, that means that our immune system is compromised and, “larger, undigested food molecules and other ‘bad stuff’ (yeast, toxins, and all other forms of waste) that your body normally doesn’t allow through, to flow freely into your bloodstream.”7  The body then sees those substances as foreign invaders and begins attacking itself in an autoimmune response. Not good.

And gluten may actually act like a drug in our bodies.

One of the components that gluten breaks down into is gluteomorphin (morphin, as in morphine). According to Daniel Auer, DC, gluteomorphin, also known as gliadomorphin, is an opiate-like substance that is toxic to the brain and highly addictive as it acts as an opioid in our bodies.8 That means that when we eat products containing gluten our bodies could actually be experiencing a subtle “high” or euphoria. No wonder it is so hard to put down the bread!


What is a healthy gluten-free diet?

According to WebMD, “The basis of a healthy gluten-free diet, as with any diet, should be natural foods. Lean meats and fish, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products…Grains that don’t contain gluten, such as quinoa and amaranth, are another healthy option.“

For more information on this subject, ask your Genetix Coach. Genetix Program’s team of doctors, certified coaches/trainers and nutritionists can help you make healthier lifestyle choices through daily phone coaching to achieve lasting weight loss. You can do it and we can help!

Author: Stephanie West

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