The Real Deal: Gluten – Friend or Foe?

We see gluten free sections at the grocery store, and it’s usually packed with all sorts of regular, everyday grocery items sans the gluten, like breads, crackers, flour.  If you are buying Oreos, you will see that amongst the double stuffed, regular, and seasonal flavor, they also have a gluten free package.  Gluten is a buzzword, and you will see it all around once you recognize it.  

Gluten is a combination of proteins found in wheat.  Some people have serious conditions, like celiac disease, which means they can become very ill if there is even a small amount of cross contamination of the food they eat coming into contact with any food containing gluten.  Celiac affects one percent of Americans and so many people are undiagnosed! Someone with celiac who goes undiagnosed and continues to consume gluten can cause serious damage to their intestinal lining and this can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies as the body becomes unable to absorb and process the necessary nutrients that are important. 

Some people are just gluten sensitive – and that sensitivity can show up in different ways.  It might mean that they endure several problems when they have consumed anything containing gluten, like skin irritation, rashes or hives, even coughing and shortness of breath, and mild to severe digestive upset including vomiting or diarrhea.  It seems like a stretch to think eating something can result in a cough or hives, but our gut health can influence every bodily function and the effects of disrupting our gut can show up in ways that have nothing to do with the gut itself.   

For me personally, I didn’t realize that I was gluten sensitive or intolerant until my skin was irritated and inflamed.  When I took the leap and cut out gluten, my face became less irritated and my entire gut health seemed to improve.  I never connected my skin or my gut to something I loved so much: BREAD!  When I say love, I truly mean that I loved bread.  It was my favorite thing about a Jersey Mike’s sandwich, and I would consume French bread in generous amounts.  I had eaten it my entire life and always tied my gut issues to being something at a restaurant or something I must have eaten that particular day.  Now that I know I am gluten sensitive, I think back to my teenage years and wonder if my sporadic break-outs could have been tied to the bread I loved so much all along.  

For the past four years I have been careful to cut out over-doing the gluten as I know that I have a threshold and once I have crossed it, I regret it.  I can have a smidge of gluten and be okay, but if I indulge in too much, I will pay for that indulgence with stomach pain and tiny red bumps across my nose and cheeks and these never show up immediately, they can take twenty-four to forty-eight hours.  I have to be mindful of what I eat and in general I just stay far away from anything containing any wheat product.  

This means reading labels and looking for gluten free symbols in the stores.  It also means that going to a brewery with friends, means searching the menu for wine or perhaps a seltzer or cider that they offer.  These days it’s getting easier and easier to find gluten free items that replace the dearly loved gluten filled ones, like breads, pastas, pizza, and cake!  My only complaint is that the gluten free items are more costly than the regular ones.  That is because the wheat crops are abundant and to replace the gluten, we see things like rice flour and tapioca starch taking its place and those simply aren’t as cheap as wheat.

If you seem to be struggling with any sort of gut ailment or even some skin and respiratory issues, it might be worth your health to keep a food diary and try cutting out some of the foods that are known to cause issues, one being gluten.  Sometimes it can be processed dairy like cheese or perhaps it’s cow’s milk in general.  Eggs are another food that people often test sensitive to and it can be the egg white or the egg yolk. They can create a different sensitivity level in your body.   You don’t have to see a doctor now to have a food sensitivity test.  You can do them through the mail!  Just a simple finger prick and you can have your sensitivities tested and emailed to you in a matter of weeks.


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