What's the Deal with Gluten?

The gluten-free diet has become a health fad in society in recent years; however, the medical reasoning for this diet is masked by the craze for low-carb diets and desire for easy weight loss. For some individuals, the gluten-free diet is vital to maintaining their health and can effectively alleviate intense symptoms of their health conditions. Let’s dive deeper into all things gluten-free!

The Problem with Gluten

Gluten is a protein found in different plants:

  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Other similar grains

When exposed to water, gluten forms a glue-like consistency, which creates an elastic texture to dough as well as allowing bread to rise when in the oven. 

For most individuals, this protein is harmless and creates no adverse health effects; however, some individuals cannot tolerate gluten, which can result in a variety of diseases. These health conditions range from the highly severe Celiac Disease to a mild gluten sensitivity. 

Celiac disease only exists in roughly 1% of the population, but causes great health complications for those who have it. Celiac is a severe form of gluten intolerance where the immune system treats gluten as a foreign threat and attacks the gluten, as well as the lining of the intestines. This intense response damages the intestinal lining, which can result in decreased absorption of nutrients from food. 

The immune response to gluten in those with Celiac creates a multitude of symptoms such as:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Skin rashes 

Some secondary consequences include, malabsorption and damaged intestinal lining include nutrient deficiencies, osteoporosis, infertility, nerve damage, and seizures. Although severe, Celiac’s disease can be managed by removing gluten-containing foods from the diet as well as seeking medical guidance. 

Beyond Celiac disease, additional conditions related to gluten sensitivity or non-celiac gluten sensitivity can generate symptoms similar to Celiac Disease without causing intestinal damage. Gluten sensitivity can be diagnosed by concluding that Celiac and allergies are not the source of the problem. In this case, no damage or immune response is triggered by the consumption of gluten in these individuals. 

Why Go Gluten-Free?

The gluten-free diet consists of the complete elimination of gluten-containing foods as well as in foods potentially cross-contaminated with gluten. This includes products beyond the typical breads, cereals, pastas; gluten may be hiding in food like frozen vegetables in sauces, soy sauce, some foods made with “natural flavorings,” vitamin and mineral supplements, some medications, and even toothpaste! These restrictions make the gluten-free diet for those with Celiac Disease and allergies quite difficult. 

For individuals suffering with Celiac Disease, wheat allergies, or even severe gluten-sensitivity, a gluten-free diet is their only option to minimizing the consequences of their health conditions. Conversely, individuals who do not possess one of these gluten-related diseases, a gluten-free diet is not necessary and not recommended. 

Other individuals might benefit from generally eating less gluten if they eat too much, which can cause inflammation, or if someone chooses to do for personal reasons. Eating too much gluten may cause inflammation in the body, which can lead to increased risk of certain diseases like diabetes, heart disease, or metabolic syndrome. For those who decide or need to go gluten-free, Pure Plates offers a 100% gluten-free menu with plenty of gluten-free options to choose from.

What to Know Before You Go Gluten-Free

For individuals that require a gluten-free diet for medical reasons, there are a few key points to know in order to maintain a balanced diet full of all the necessary nutrients your body needs. 

First, nutrient deficiencies can occur from removing grains from the diet. Numerous grain products, like bread, are frequently fortified with B vitamins in the United States to prevent nutritional deficiencies. If you are not consuming these fortified grain products, your risk for developing a deficiency can increase if you are not supplementing with the appropriate nutrients. For example, folate or folic acid is an important B vitamin, especially in pregnant women because it minimizes the risk of birth defects. One should consider supplementing their gluten-free diet with folate if they are planning to become pregnant. Speak to your doctor or registered dietitian to see if a gluten-free multivitamin may be right for you. 

Another point to consider is the loss of dietary fiber from whole grains. Dietary fiber is essential for promoting a healthy digestive system as well as maintaining the health of your intestines. A lack of fiber in the diet may cause symptoms of Celiac Disease or gluten-sensitivities to heighten. For women, the goal is 25g of fiber per day and for men, 38g per day. Some great sources of dietary fiber in gluten-free foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes, and chia seeds. 

Lastly, avoid replacing foods containing gluten with their processed gluten-free counterparts. For example, instead of buying pre-made gluten-free cookies from the grocery store, try making your own at home with almond flour! It is also important to avoid increasing your intake of red meats and refined sugars while making this diet transition.

The Bottom Line

The gluten-free diet is a great lifestyle for individuals suffering from severe gluten allergies or gluten-intolerances, such as Celiac Disease. Check out these Pure Plates gluten-free meals!