Going gluten free seems to be a hype these days and many people make that choice nowadays because gluten gets such a bad rep… Many migraineurs have found that cutting out gluten has had a positive effect on their migraines.
But going gluten free is much more “complicated” than cuttting out bread and pasta…
The gluten free pastas and breads there are often not a tasty nor healthier choice to be honest and they also cost much more money (at least today - with wheat becoming a rare food in Europe that might actually change)...
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein in wheat that gives breads, pasta etc their specific texture - it’s a sort of glue: that’s also why most gluten free products tend to be dry or crumbly and you’ve probably noticed that gluten free pasta has a different texture.
Gluten-containing grains are:
Image source: Expert Rev. Gastroenterol. Hepatol. 6(1), 43–55 (2012)
There is also gluten in the Avenae tribe, of which oats are a member – which explains why some people who are sensitive to gluten do struggle with oats. Gluten-free oats do exist too (they are derived from a different species though as you can see on the image), so pay attention to the gluten-free label.
Foods containing gluten are:
Regular breads, pasta, bulgur, couscous
Cereals, granolas & porridge
But gluten also hides in other foods and drinks (unless labeled gluten-free):
Ready made sauces, dressings or gravy
Vegetarian meat substitutes, veggie burgers
Processed lunch meats
Some candy bars
Seasoning or spice blends
Ready made soups
Some artificial flavorings
Modified food starch
Ice cream and ketchup
How do you know if gluten is a problem for you?
Approximately 1 person in 133 has celiac disease (and that number is only increasing and likely under-estimated) and approximately 6% of the US population has non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
(Sources: www.beyondceliac.org and Igbinedion SO, Ansari J, Vasikaran A, et al. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: All wheat attack is not celiac. World J Gastroenterol. 2017;23(40):7201-7210. doi:10.3748/wjg.v23.i40.7201)
Celiac disease: when the consumption of gluten triggers antibodies to attack the lining of the small intestine, severely damaging the microvilli in a way that they are no longer able to absorb nutrients.
Undiagnosed or untreated celiac disease can lead to long-term health conditions like iron deficiency anemia, early onset osteoporosis, infertility, pancreatic insufficiency, Type 1 Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and more.
The most significant difference between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity is that gluten sensitivity doesn’t wear down the microvilli in the same fashion; but both cause inflammation which damages the gut lining and adds a significant stressor on the immune system overall.
A non-celiac wheat person can react to a number of things:
the lectins in the wheat,
FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides react to the carbohydrates in wheat called fructans),
or even benzodiazepines found in wheat
What are the symptoms of gluten sensitivity or celiac disease?
GI symptoms like: diarrhea and abdominal pain, bloating or constipation
Neurological symptoms like: brain fog, seizures, dementia, migraines, neuropathy and depression
Joint & muscle pain
Anemia (iron deficiency)
Why is gluten becoming such a problem?
Consumption of gluten increases gut permeability which is the starting point of developing additional food sensitivities
Gluten is the #1 dietary source of neurological dysfunction.
Gluten-containing grains also bring with them a host of antinutrients such as lectins, phytic acid, and enzyme inhibitors. Lectins can bind to virtually all cell types and damage several organs while also stimulating pro-inflammatory cytokine activity.
The extensive hybridization of wheat and other grains has led to the development of entirely new gluten proteins in these grains. It has been found that grains we eat today contain 5.4% of new proteins which our body doesn’t recognize, that’s why they are treated as invaders by our immune system.
It’s widely used in the food industry to increase shelf-life and give products a fluffier texture. Gluten is now found in many foods from ketchup to deli meats, making a complete elimination of gluten even more challenging.
Wheat (in the US) is highly treated with glyphosate which acts as an antibiotic in our gut destroying our gut bacteria and increasing our toxic load. Glyphosate is believed to contribute to negative changes in the gut microbiome which may also lead to increased gluten reactivity and can create nutrient deficiencies. Some people are actually not reacting to gluten, but to the glyphosate. Researchers have found that 80 – 90% of wheat-based foods are contaminated with glyphosate. Also, Environmental Working Group (EWG) examined five samples of dried pasta and seven samples of cereal. All of them contained glyphosate.
There are a number of foods that cross-react with gluten meaning that they have a similar protein structure to gluten which your immune system can confuse to gluten and therefore react to as well. It's estimated that at least half of those who are gluten intolerant are also sensitive to dairy (including whey protein), yeast, oats, millet, rice, and corn, which are the most common cross-reactive foods. sources of gluten and gliadin cross-reactive foods, such as dairy, corn, oats, rice, millet, cassava, yeast, but also instant coffee or sesame.
If we take the example of gluten and thyroid hormones in Hashimoto's disease for instance, thyroid tissue and gluten are almost identical at a molecular level. So every time someone with a thyroid auto-immune activity consumes gluten, their immune system reacts to the gluten, but also to thyroid tissue and therefore is worsening the autoimmune response.
So the answer to the question why gluten is becoming such a problem today is the pandemic of poor gut health!
And what causes poor gut health?
A diet high in processed foods
Using pain killers and acid blockers, synthetic hormones, antibiotics or other drugs
Having too little variety in your diet
Lack of fiber and vegetables in your diet
Chronic stress (mental and physical)
Eating foods treated with pesticides
Exposure to other toxins like PFAS, BPA's...
How do you go gluten free?
One of the best things to look for when purchasing packaged or processed foods is a certified gluten-free label that ensures that the food contains less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.
As I said in the beginning, gluten-free products are not necessarily better for your health as they may be highly processed and a source of high simple carbohydrates that are not good for your blood sugar balance. But they are often also more expensive and less tasty. So unfortunately, it's a bit of a hit and miss to find the products you like and if you are on a budget, DYI is the way to go...
Gluten-free grains that are safe to use (all high carb though (except maybe quinoa & amaranth), so not ideal for blood sugar balance):
I have some recipes on my blog that you may want to check out, but there are plenty available on the internet too.
These are all low carb and high protein recipes:
Let me know if you tried them and how you liked them !