What does gluten do to your body?
Let’s face it; switching to gluten has become a trend as gluten-free products increase the taste factor and quality (we’re looking at you, cauliflower pizza). While your favourite products such as pasta, beer, bagels and even beauty products reject gluten, it can leave you feeling embarrassed. Is it really healthy to say goodbye to gluten? Well, that depends.
Nutritionist Kimberly Synder explains to Well + Good, “About three million Americans have celiac disease, a serious autoimmune disease that is triggered by gluten.” Meanwhile, as many as 20 million people have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, notes registered dietitian Tracy Lockwood-Beckerman.
In these situations, gluten can be harmful to the body. Because celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, eating gluten causes the body to damage the small intestine (according to Johns Hopkins Medicine). On the other hand, individuals sensitive to gluten do not suffer from celiac disease. Rather, gluten consumption leads to symptoms such as gastrointestinal distress, headaches, brain fog, joint pain, fatigue, and even depression (for Celiac disease). But what exactly is gluten?
Gluten is a protein that comes from rye, wheat, barley, and triticale (which is a combination of rye and barley), Johns Hopkins shares. While oats are naturally gluten-free, gluten is sometimes found in oats when those oats are processed with gluten-filled foods. It can also be extracted and added to other foods for texture or even flavour as it is a great binder. Think of it as edible and tasty glue.
What happens when you stop eating gluten?
Gluten has been around for ages and is not bad for individuals who can tolerate it. Johns Hopkins obesity specialist Dr Selvi Rajagopal points out, “For centuries, gluten-containing foods have provided people with protein, soluble fibre, and nutrients.”
During digestion, the body uses a digestive enzyme, protease, to help break down proteins. The problem is that the protease cannot fully break down the gluten, leaving undigested gluten in the small intestine (according to John Hopkins). This is not a problem for most people, but for others, it can cause unwanted symptoms or trigger a serious autoimmune reaction. Johns Hopkins recommends avoiding gluten if you have the following: gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, gluten ataxia, or a wheat allergy.
If your body can tolerate gluten, then jumping on the gluten-free trend can lead to some adverse effects. Skipping gluten can cause you to miss out on some healthy doses of essential fibre (via Well + Good). It can also lead to nutritional deficiencies in iron, vitamin D, folic acid, and more since these nutrients often come from wheat, rye, and barley (according to Prevention). Therefore, it is important to maintain a diet rich in nutrients and fibre.
Believe it or not, Prevention explains that a gluten-free diet can also lead to weight gain (since many gluten-free products contain more fat, sugar and calories), affect your gut health, and can cause you to eat more arsenic (a harmful heavy metal). For these reasons, you should talk to your doctor beforehand