Gluten Confusion
Gluten Free Diets, it’s all the rage right now. In fact, if you have read Wheat Belly or have been watching Dr. Oz. you may be thinking of going on a gluten-free diet yourself.

The terms “wheat” and “gluten” are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.

To make things less confusing, let’s start by defining the term gluten.  Gluten is a protein found in the grains wheat, barley, and rye.  Gluten is what makes pizza dough stretchy, gives bread its spongy texture, and is used to thicken sauces and soups.

A wheat free diet simple means that someone is avoiding wheat products from the diet, whereas a gluten free diet means that they are avoiding wheat, barley and rye.

There may be many reasons why someone will choose to follow a wheat free or gluten free diet. Some find that avoiding these foods helps with inflammation, joint pain, weight loss and digestive issue while others avoid them due to allergies or sensitivities.

Those with sensitivities or intolerance to gluten have symptoms similar to celiac disease, but their blood tests and intestinal biopsies appear normal.

Celiac disease, which is an allergy to gluten, is a medical condition in which the surface of the small intestine is damaged by gluten. The Canadian Digestive Health foundation estimates that more than 330,000 Canadians are believed to be affected by celiac disease. From the onset of symptoms, it takes an average time of one year to obtain a diagnosis of celiac disease. In some cases, the time to diagnosis may take as long as 12 years.

For Celiacs, gluten-containing foods can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, and weight loss, along with fatigue, irritability, depression, and difficulty thinking clearly. Because the condition interferes with the absorption of nutrients from your digestive tract, it can lead to anemia and even osteoporosis.

In children, stunted growth and an inability to gain weight are important clues to diagnosis. Although we associate digestive issues such as gas, bloating and diarrhea with celiac disease, other conditions are also common such as dermatitis herpetiformis, insulin-dependent diabetes, thyroid disease and under activity of the adrenal glands.

Gluten free diets have received some bad reviews due to the fact that many gluten free products on the market use nutrient void ingredients such as white rice flour, potato starch and other starches.  Some switch to a gluten free diet in hopes of losing weight but forget that gluten free does not mean calorie free, it just means you’re avoiding foods with gluten.  When choosing gluten free products look for products made from whole grains such as brown rice, millet, quinoa, amaranth, sorghum, and buckwheat.

If you suffer from digestive issue, joint pain or any other chronic health condition, then you may want to try a gluten free or work with a health practitioner that can guide you through the process.

About the Author

Rita Mustafa, RNCP, a registered nutritional consultant, acupuncturist and author of Wheat-Free, Dairy-Free Cookbook.