Am I gluten intolerant? That’s a question Dr. A hears a lot. No wonder! Gluten-free diets are all the rage right now, but some people jump on the bandwagon and go gluten free without really knowing if a gluten-free diet is the best choice for them.
We’re all a little different from a genetic standpoint. While a gluten-free diet is the only safe choice for someone with celiac disease, whether it’s right for you depends on, well, YOU.
Our goal in this post is to give you a better idea of whether you’re likely to benefit from a diet free of gluten and how to find out whether such a diet is right for you.
What is Gluten?
You hear the term “gluten” tossed around a lot but if you ask someone what it is, they can’t always give you a clear answer.
Gluten is one of several proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. The two main gluten proteins are called glutenin and gliadin.
Ever notice how pizza dough is so flexible and “stretchy?” You can pull it in any direction and it doesn’t fall apart. It’s the gluten in pizza dough that keeps it intact even when you toss it in the air, pizza maker style. Same with bread dough.
You find gluten in a number of baked goods and packaged food products. Because gluten is so common in packaged foods, it once was ultra-challenging to follow a gluten-free diet. These days, there’s a growing number of gluten-free packaged products that are supposed to make it easier.
Unfortunately, most gluten-free packaged foods are not all that healthy. They’re usually made with potato flour or some other flour that raises your blood sugar rapidly. The best gluten-free diets are those built around whole foods. Fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten-free.
BTW, you’re probably wondering what triticale is. It’s a hybrid grain made by crossing rye with wheat.
Who Benefits from a Gluten-Free Diet?
Am I gluten intolerant? At one time, the consensus was only people with “true” gluten sensitivity, the disease we call celiac disease benefit from a diet free of gluten. People with celiac disease have an immune system that “overreacts” to gluten, actually overreacting is putting it mildly.
When confronted with gluten, your immune system releases a torrent of immune cells to help obliterate it, almost like it’s responding to a three-alarm fire. In turn, this leads to inflammation that damages the small intestinal lining.
Some foods you can consume a little of and get by with it. For example, if you have diabetes, you can eat a little sugar on occasion and it won’t do great harm. Not so if you have celiac disease. If you consume even a tiny amount of gluten, it fuels the inflammation and damages the thin boundary and channels that separate your small intestines from the rest of your body.