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Gluten Free Basics

Is gluten really so bad for me?

Why does gluten get a bad wrap in some circles?

Well, for those allergic to gluten, sensitive to it, or who have Celiac Disease avoiding gluten is a key tool in maintaining overall health and especially gut health. Whether or not gluten is good or bad for you really depends on your circumstances. Each person has to make their own decision about the cost/benefit of including it in their diet or not.  Our family chooses to avoid gluten.  For myself, it's because my autoimmune disease seems to be less active without gluten in my diet.  I also recently found out that I do have one genetic mutation that makes it possible for me to have Celiac Disease (though I've been gluten free for so long now that all testing for gluten allergy or sensitivity would be negative).  We keep our children gluten free because they both had some curious reactions to it when we first introduced it to them.  That along with not wanting to increase their odds of developing Ulcerative Colitis keeps us pretty vigilant about their gut health.  

So... what is gluten?  Gluten is a protein (made up of other proteins: glutenin (gives it elasticity) and gliadin (provides strength) that is found in wheat, barely and rye. This combination of strength and elasticity is what makes gluten so wonderful for baking breads, cakes, pastries, etc.

For those with Celiac Disease or a non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, the symptoms can look the same and include, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, fatigue and more.  When individuals who are allergic or sensitive to gluten eat it the function of the intestines is continuously compromised over time.  For those more sensitive, the gut lining will reach its max level of aggravation more quickly. For those less sensitive it may take many more years to figure out what it going on. Either way, this constant attack on the intestines can then lead to what’s known as a "leaky gut."  This means exactly what it sounds like.  The gut becomes permeable and molecules that should remain in the gut can actually escape and make it into our blood stream.  This puts our immune system on high alert as it detects a "foreign invader" and goes into attack mode.  As our bodies try to get rid of the foreign invaders inflammation occurs as a natural defense and can be expressed in many ways.  Inflammation can present itself as the symptoms listed above or as acne, eczema, brain fog, achy joints… The list could go on.  

It's not always easy to determine which food(s) we are sensitive to.  It is easy to eliminate a food, or food group, such as gluten and test the results, though.  If you'd like to have definitive proof of an allergy or sensitivity to gluten or to check for Celiac Disease you would need to see your doctor and have blood work done.  

Just remember that eating a gluten-free diet does not give you the go ahead to eat all the gluten-free prepackaged foods out there on the market.  Unfortunately, while safe to eat, they are usually less healthy for you than the gluten filled counterparts.  The reason for this is that they add a lot more fillers and binders and sugar to try and make the item taste like the original one.  These foods are great for a treat or when traveling, but in terms of nutrient density and your health you are much better off simply eating foods that are naturally gluten-free. Often this looks more like a Paleo diet that eliminates all grains, legumes dairy and minimizes sugar. But it doesn’t’ have to. Millet, buckwheat, quinoa and wild rice are wonderful alternatives to pasta. You can even get pasta now that is made from beans (usually red lentils, Mung beans or black beans). You can use almond flour, cassava flour and tapioca starch to bake with (or even buckwheat flour). It all takes some getting used to, but it’s worth it to help maintain the health of your gut and relieve symptoms of gluten sensitivity, allergy and Celiac Disease.

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