The Fruitful Life

Cracking the Gluten Code

Cracking the Gluten Code

There's a lot of mystery, fear, and sometimes misinformation surrounding gluten. Today, Neil Levin empowers you, so you can make informed decisions on gluten. Neil is a Senior Nutrition Education Manager with NOW Foods. He also supervises their External Affairs Department, which had over 100 trainings so far last year!

FY: Hey Neil! Thanks for joining us today. To start, for people new to the gluten game, what exactly is gluten?

Neil: Gluten is a type of protein found primarily in wheat, modern hybridized wheat. For some people, it can cause reactions when they eat it. These reactions may be gastrointestinal or neurological. Neurological reactions can include headaches, dizziness, and mental confusion.

FY: With gluten, what is the difference between a disease, an allergy, and a sensitivity?

Neil: A disease happens when the body is ill because of [a condition like Celiac or Chron’s.] For example, with Celiac disease, you get massive inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.

An allergy happens when the immune system immediately reacts to a substance. The body identifies the undesirable substance and targets that protein. An allergic reaction might be hives or difficulty breathing… These are severe symptoms.

Sensitivities are less overt reactions. You could have a delayed or less obvious reaction. Neurological reactions and minor gastrointestinal reactions fall under this category. Sometimes digestive enzymes can be enough to aid gastrointestinal and digestive sensitivities in the body.

Furthermore, many people are concerned about products not manufactured in gluten-free facilities – this is usually not a concern unless you have Celiac. The U.S. Government sets 20 parts per million as the threshold for people with sensitivities to be non-reactive.

FY: It seems like within the past 5 years, there’s been a big up-spike in people with gluten sensitivities. What might be the explanation for that?

Neil: I’ve seen data from hospitals, and the rate of Celiac diagnosis. Hospitals have a steep increase in Celiac disease diagnosis over the last 20 years. Using of glyphosates, weed killers like Roundup®, has also increased dramatically over the last 20 years. There’s an unproven correlation [between Celiac disease and the use of glyphosates]. It’s interesting and scary that a common weed killer used on wheat and other crops can possibly increase people’s reactivity to wheat.

FY: Is gluten inherently bad for you?

Neil: I don’t think gluten is harmful to most people, but there is definitely a subset that find it to be a problem. Wheat is one of the “8 Major Food Allergens”, which the FDA cites on their website in their article, Food Allergies: What You Need to Know. Plus, there’s some evidence that increased hybridization made it more reactive. Ancient [non-hybrid] wheat crops (like kamut or spelt)  are often less reactive for people who don’t tolerate normal wheat well. Some wheat intolerant people can eat wheat foods from Europe. It’s possible that they don’t use the same pesticides or varieties of wheat there.

FY: Can a gluten-free diet be beneficial to people without actual allergies?

Neil: Yes. Now, the majority of people on gluten-free diets don’t have a disease, allergy, or sensitivity. However, by avoiding wheat, bread, and pasta, people avoid heavy starchy calories from refined foods.

FY: I’ve met some people that go gluten-free to lose weight. Does going gluten-free help you lose weight?

Neil: It can help, but it depends on what you’re eating. For any diet, the fact that you’re consciously eating and selecting good foods gives you a short time where your diet is controlled. In this time, you consciously select and eat. Often, diets don’t last long term, because you eventually stop consciously selecting and eating. When it becomes routine, people tend to lose the benefit.

FY: What does good gluten-free eating look like?

I definitely have a bias towards wholesome foods, like whole grains over processed and refined grains. Some whole grains can be naturally gluten-free. Often, people look for substitute breads and pastas. Read the whole ingredients list to ensure it's wholesome and nutritious. It can also be difficult if you have different dietary needs than your family, but finding foods that seamlessly transition can be helpful. It can be as simple as cauliflower crust pizza, or a salad with homemade dressing. It's all about finding what you like, and ensuring it won't cause problems.

Luckily, it's far easier to be gluten-free than it was 20 years ago. Gluten-free foods have developed a lot in terms of taste and texture. Often, people can find what they need in local grocery stores, not just health food stores. But remember, health food stores are more likely to have wholesome and nutritious options, as well as being the place where new products are introduced. It may be a year before new products are introduced to the mass market - if ever. Why wait? For the latest and greatest, shop health food stores!

*Content contained in this article is not intended to provide or to constitute medical or healthcare advice. Nor can it be relied upon as preventative care, cure, or treatment for any disease or medical condition. You should consult a qualified healthcare professional for advice regarding the diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition and before starting any supplementation, nutritional, exercise, or other medical programs.


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