I love a lot of the segments that comedian Jimmy Kimmel does on his show. One of them was where he sent a camera around LA and asked people who were on gluten free diets if they knew what gluten was.You can check out the video below.
As you can probably guessed, all the people who were in the segment had no idea what gluten even was. While this comedic bit was in no way a scientific study, like a lot of the fads that are en vogue, there are a lot of people that hitch themselves to the bandwagon of the latest health craze and don’t even no why.
There was the low fat phenomenon, then low cholesterol, then low carb and so many others. Some of these buzzwords are based in science, some in bad science and then some that are just complete crap.
The question is where does the gluten-free craze fall. Will it save your life, will it help people with their digestion, will it help people lose weight, or is it another one of the silly fads that people love to gravitate toward that is pure quackery?
Let’s take a further look at gluten and what it actually is and what it can actually do to your body.
Basics of Gluten
Gluten is a composite of the proteins gliadin and glutenin and is found in all types of wheat.
Although most people associate gluten with wheat, it can also be found in rye, spelt, kamut, barley, and most oats*. So this would include foods like bread, pasta, cakes, crackers, some sauces and dressings, beer, cereals and couscous.
(*Oats actually do not contain gluten, but most are contaminated in the processing so it is recommended to avoid them if you are avoiding gluten.)
These grains are relatively new to the human diet and have only been consumed regularly for a few thousand years. Compare that to the millions of years that humans (and hundreds of thousands that modern humans) have been around and been surviving on other sources of food.
Many researchers say that humans have not had long enough to fully adapt to the addition of these crops to their diets.
Modern vs. Ancient Wheat
In addition to wheat and grains being a relatively new food, consider the fact that the wheat we consume today though is very different than the wheat that was consumed even a few decades ago.
Modern wheat (also known as dwarf wheat) was bred in the 1960s in order to produce a higher yielding crop. While this was able to produce more food for more people, the dwarf wheat was also less nutritious as it contained less vitamins and minerals.
The dwarf wheat also contains more gluten than the older varieties like Einkorn and Kamut.
Different Processing Techniques
Not only does the wheat we eat today have less nutrients and more gluten, it is also processed differently.
The first difference comes in the time that wheat is in the field after it is harvested. It used to stay in the field much longer which lead to a reduction in toxins and anti-nutrients.
In order to aid in the digestibility wheat was also often sprouted, soaked, leavened or fermented. This does still exist today, but is much rarer than it was in the past and most of the wheat that is consumed does not undergo any of these processes.
The grinding process is another major difference. Wheat was ground with heavy stones which kept all the nutrients that are found in the germ and bran. Today the germ and bran are usually removed to improve the shelf-life, but removing it also removes many of the nutrients.
So the wheat today has less vitamins and minerals because of the hybrid breeding and because of the processing. And that is decreased even further with the high heat of the high-speed milling process that is used.
All this was done to produce more food, but the food is not as high quality as what our great grandparents ate… and then there’s that gluten thing.
The Silliness of Gluten-Free
So are all people that go gluten-free out of their mind? No. There are some real medical issues and side effects that can be caused by gluten but I’ll get to those later.
Before I get into some of the facts, let me go cover the lemming-like followers that latch onto every cool buzzword without even knowing what they are doing, so you don’t become one of them.
Don’t be one of those people that goes gluten-free and expects to lose weight but then replaces the gluten with other carbs like sugar. This is one of the big misconceptions that a lot of people have about the effects of gluten.
Reducing carbs can help you lose weight so gluten free diets can work for weight loss, but if you are substituting one carb for another, you aren’t really reducing carbs and aren’t really reducing caloric intake. Without doing one or both of those, you will not lose weight.
According to Nielson the sales of products that are labeled gluten-free have risen from $11.5 billion in 2010 to over $23 billion in 2013.
The silly thing about this is that some of these products never had gluten in the first place. Some marketing wizard just wanted to ride the wave of hysteria from the public.
Just because something says gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. Soda, potato chips and ice cream are all gluten-free but they are all crap. So don’t replace crappy gluten-containing foods with crappy gluten-free foods.
Some of the gluten-free versions of food have even more carbs and sugar than some of their “normal” counterparts. This should be even more reason to read the labels and know what you are putting in your body.
The other issue with a lot of gluten-free folks is ignorance. There are some people like those in that Jimmy Kimmel clip that are gluten free because someone told them it was good. Don’t be one of those people. Do your research so you know what you are doing to your body.
Dangerous Effects of Gluten
Gluten is a serious issue for those with celiac (also spelled coeliac) disease.
Celiac disease is a serious sensitivity to gluten where the body develops an autoimmune disorder in which the body recognizes the gluten protein and a foreign invader and releases antibodies to attack it. These antibodies also attack the lining of the intestines which causes inflammation and damage to the villi. Villi are what absorb nutrients.
If left untreated, celiac disease can lead to some serious health problems and other autoimmune diseases. Some of these include: Multiple sclerosis (MS,) Type 1 diabetes, deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, gastrointestinal cancers, osteoporosis, and a condition called leaky gut.
Leaky gut is a condition where the pores in the small intestines do not properly filter the undigested food particles and toxins from entering the bloodstream. The body releases antibodies to attack these toxins and food particles but they end up attacking healthy cells as well which can lead to other autoimmune diseases.
Anytime the intestines are irritated (as they are with celiac) this condition can occur.
(Celiac can sometimes be confused with an allergic reaction to wheat since wheat and gluten go hand in hand. These are two separate conditions though.)
Symptoms for celiac disease include digestive problems such as bloating, abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea. They can also include severe skin rashes, seizures, anemia, and musculoskeletal problems like cramping, and joint pain.
It is estimated that 1% of the population has celiac disease and that number seems to be on the rise. Most people who suffer from the disease are unaware they even have it.
If you suspect that you have celiac disease there are tests that your doctor can do to see if you are indeed suffering from celiac or if you have a lesser form of gluten sensitivity.
The most popular test is a blood test but if you do have celiac and are not eating gluten your body will not be producing the antibodies that the tests will be looking for. This can lead to a false negative.
There is a genetic test that can see if certain genes are present that would indicate celiac. An estimated 40% of people will test positive for these genes though, so this can be used to rule out celiac if you are suffering from symptoms.
Keep in mind that neither the blood or genetic test can confirm celiac disease, they can both only suggest it’s presence.
Even if you are not in the 1% of people who are estimated to have celiac, a lesser form of gluten sensitivity may still exists. Some people who are sensitive to gluten can even experience symptoms that are just as severe as someone who suffers from celiac.
“Foggy brain” is another symptom that people attribute to gluten. Symptoms for this can range from difficulty concentrating to remembering.
Some brain conditions such as schizophrenia, autism and epilepsy seem to show improvement when gluten is eliminated from the diet.
Since sensitivity to gluten effects people in different ways, there is no clear definition of what it is and since it’s difficult for the medical community to define exactly what it is, it’s also difficult for them to test for it.
There is a test that indicates the presence of gluten antibodies in the stool and urine. This seems to be more accurate than a blood test since the antibodies may not be leaking through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream.
A study using this test does indicate that up to 29% of people may be suffering from some degree of gluten sensitivity.
How to Tell if You Are Sensitive to Gluten
Since most of the tests are able to rule out celiac and gluten sensitivity but can’t definitively confirm it’s presence, the best way to see if you are affected is to eliminate gluten from your diet and see how your body reacts when it is reintroduced.
The common timeframe that most recommend to be gluten-free is 30 days. This may need to be longer for some people because they may have a large gluten buildup in their bodies and it may take longer than 30 days to get it out of your system.
When you reintroduce gluten into your diet, if you notice any symptoms such as digestive problems, difficulty remembering, aches, or anything else, you may have a sensitivity to gluten and may want to consider eliminating it from your diet on a permanent basis.
Remember if you are cutting out gluten don’t replace it with crappy gluten free products. Instead replace gluten with healthy vegetables and animal products.
If you are cutting you should probably be reducing your carbs anyway so eliminating gluten with healthy foods should be natural. If you are bulking you can replace gluten with other carbohydrate rich foods such as rice or sweet potatoes.
As for me, I do not think I have a sensitivity to gluten. After cutting for a month with no carbs and then reintroducing carbs (and gluten) to my diet, I did not notice a difference at all.
Even though I don’t think my body has any adverse reactions to gluten, I still try to get more of my carbs from rice, sweet potatoes and fruit and not as much from pasta and bread. I still do get oatmeal in the morning though even if it is not gluten free… but that’s me.
As for what will work for you, I really recommend trying to find out what is best for your body. Gluten can really cause some serious problems for some people and if you are one of them, you should definitely try to avoid it.
Hopefully this article enlightened you a bit about gluten and it’s potential adverse effects. Don’t be one of the people that blindly follows a trend because it’s popular.
What is your experience? Do you have an adverse reaction to gluten or are you like me and don’t really notice a difference either way? Leave a comment below or on the facebook group. Thanks for visiting.