Gluten allergies seem to be everywhere these days, and the gluten-free diet is all the rage. But what is gluten, and can you really be allergic to it? It’s time to dispel some myths and learn some truths about the subject so we can all figure out the best way to eat healthily and feel good.
Gluten allergies can be very real and life-threatening problems, so it is very important to understand if you might have a gluten allergy and what you can do to deal with it. However, not all people who think they have a gluten allergy actually have one. In fact, many people may simply be sensitive to gluten the way some are sensitive to lactose. Fortunately, there are ways of dealing with these types of sensitivities. Gluten is a component found in many commonly eaten foods, so a true gluten allergy will certainly impact your life if you need to start avoiding it altogether. However, managing an allergy or a sensitivity is easy once you get the hang of what to look for and what to avoid!
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Unfortunately, that means that it is part of many processed foods that we all eat on a regular basis. Gluten is used in our breads, cereals, pastas, sauces, salad dressings, soups and so much more. Many processed foods, meaning foods that come packaged and have been adjusted from their “natural” state, contain gluten.
If you do have a gluten allergy, you need to be very alert when reviewing the ingredients labels on packaged food to ensure you avoid anything related to gluten. You will have to learn to identify the gluten-containing terms that you might find on an ingredients label so you can accurately identify unsafe foods. Luckily, many whole foods do not contain gluten, so you can safely enjoy those on a daily basis.
Do I have a gluten allergy?
Those who have a gluten allergy cannot absorb the protein efficiently. This allergy is actually known as celiac disease and can cause serious gastrointestinal (GI) complications, like inflammation, upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea. For those with celiac disease, this allergy is an autoimmune response to gluten that can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
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If you have been experiencing unexplained weight loss, fatigue and chronic GI issues, then you might want to consider getting tested for celiac disease through a blood test. To confirm a diagnosis, an endoscopy might also be done to inspect the lining of your intestines.
Only approximately 1 percent of the population suffers from celiac disease. Many followers of a gluten-free diet do not actually have celiac disease, but they might have a gluten sensitivity. A gluten sensitivity cannot be accurately diagnosed through a blood test, like celiac disease. A gluten sensitivity might just be determined based on symptoms.
If you have been suffering from some of the common symptoms of a gluten sensitivity, it can be worth the effort to cut gluten out of your diet to see if you notice a difference in the symptoms. While your sensitivity might not be a full-blown allergy, you can still benefit from eliminating the discomfort-causing component.
Gluten-Free Diet Options
Wheat, rye and barley are the three primary ingredients you need to watch for if you have a gluten allergy or sensitivity. While oats are naturally free of gluten, they are often processed with other wheat-based products and can therefore be contaminated. These are some great alternatives that are gluten free:
- Rice (and rice flour)
- Potato (and potato flour)
- Corn (and cornstarch or corn flour)
- Almond meal flour
- Pea flour
- Soy (and soy flour)
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It is important to note that cutting gluten out of your diet can also result in not getting certain important vitamins and minerals often found in those gluten-filled foods. Iron and vitamin B deficiencies can occur if you completely cut out gluten and do not ensure a balance in your replacement foods.
Many gluten-free alternatives also lack the equivalent amounts of fiber, so you will want to make sure you balance out your diet accordingly. Increasing your intake of fresh vegetables can help with this.
Health Benefits of the Gluten-Free Diet
One very popular myth around a gluten-free diet is that you can lose lots of weight very easily by cutting gluten out. The problem with this myth is that cutting gluten out of your diet is not a simple solution to improving your overall diet. Many dieters who cut out gluten simply replace it with other processed foods that do not have gluten but that also are not healthy alternatives.
Cutting back on the carbohydrates and processed foods that contain gluten can be a good dietary decision. However, that alone does not mean that you will lose weight. You must maintain a healthy, balanced diet filled with vegetables and fruits plus plenty of protein and carbohydrates.
If you cut out gluten but replace it with more processed foods high in sugar and fat, then you may not experience a magical weight loss some gluten-free diet promoters promise. Unfortunately, many gluten-free foods are highly processed and do not offer a healthy alternative.
The best way to cut out gluten while maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is to introduce many more whole foods into your diet. Whole foods are natural foods, which can include:
- Fruits: Eat whole fruits, and avoid sugary fruit juices.
- Vegetables: Eat fresh vegetables, and avoid processed foods or boxed meals that claim they contain vegetables.
- Proteins: Eat lean proteins like chicken, turkey, fish and other meats. Lentils and beans are another source of protein.
The health benefits of a gluten-free diet for someone suffering from celiac disease or from a gluten sensitivity can be enormous. However, those benefits do not include easy weight loss. Avoiding gluten is not a magical dieting strategy. Healthy weight loss requires balancing several factors. If you do have an allergy or a sensitivity to gluten, then be sure to adjust your diet accordingly to help your body feel better.
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