“I. love. bread.” – Oprah
We know the feeling! But, does bread love you?
Gluten has become public enemy number one over the past decade, but how much do we really know about gluten? There is confusion over whether gluten is problematic for all people or just those with gluten intolerance.
In this article, we’ll explain what gluten actually is, how today’s gluten is vastly different, and whether or not you need to eliminate gluten from your diet.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is the name for a group of proteins found in grains like wheat, barley, rye, and triticale – a cross between wheat and rye.
As a protein, gluten provides structure and elasticity to baked goods such as bread and pastries. The gluten increases the strength, rise, and shelf life of baked goods.
Which Foods Contain Gluten?
Any foods made with wheat, barley, and/or rye will contain gluten. This includes typical foods like bread, pasta, pastries, cookies, cakes, and pizza. One of America’s favorite beverages also contains gluten – beer! Brewers usually make beer with malted barley, but they may use wheat in the brewing process as well.
You can also find gluten hidden in various products throughout the grocery store like soy sauce, granola bars, salad dressings, and marinades.
How is Today’s Gluten Different?
Today’s gluten is different from the gluten protein used decades ago.
Wheat was first domesticated about 10,000 years ago (1). Wild wheat had tiny needle-like grains, much smaller than the large grains of modern wheat crops.
Some researchers believe that the selection of wheat varieties with higher gluten content, mostly due to farming technologies, has created modern wheat that is much higher in gluten than its wild wheat ancestor (2).
Therefore, people argue that it is the higher gluten content in modern wheat that is causing more issues with gluten tolerance throughout the industrialized world.
Who Should Eat Gluten-Free?
Many people can eat gluten without feeling any negative side effects.
However, other individuals may need to follow a gluten-free diet in order to reduce uncomfortable symptoms.
People with Autoimmune Diseases
In autoimmune conditions, the person’s immune system goes rogue and mistakenly triggers an attack on its own body. The root cause of autoimmune diseases is a mixture of genetics, an environmental trigger, and changes in gut permeability (i.e. leaky gut).
Women are twice as likely to develop an autoimmune disease than men (3). Examples of autoimmune conditions include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and celiac disease.
In celiac disease, the body creates antibodies that attack and damage the intestinal lining whenever gluten is consumed. Many people mistakenly refer to celiac disease as a “gluten allergy.” However, this is not an accurate description because celiac disease does not involve the typical allergy pathway. Roughly 1.4% of the world’s population has celiac disease, in which the only treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet (4). Your doctor can test for celiac disease with either a blood test or biopsy from your small intestine.
However, eliminating gluten can also be helpful for people with other autoimmune conditions outside of celiac disease (5, 6). This may be due to the fact that gluten can increase leaky gut, which then allows larger molecules to enter into the bloodstream (7). These larger molecules can cause an immune reaction and worsen the development of autoimmune conditions in certain people. For that reason, many people with autoimmune diseases may feel better on a gluten-free diet.
Gluten Intolerance or Sensitivity
Some people may test negative for celiac disease but still experience a negative reaction to gluten. This is often described as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a condition affecting up to 13 percent of Americans (8).
Gluten intolerance is controversial in the medical world, but emerging evidence shows that it does likely exist. Common symptoms for gluten sensitivity include abdominal pain, eczema, headache, brain fog, fatigue, diarrhea, depression, and joint pain (2).
Gluten sensitivity, like other food sensitivities, involves the immune system and often leads to low-grade inflammation. Many people within the 131 Method are able to pinpoint a gluten sensitivity by simply following our guided elimination diet! This is the easiest and cheapest way to determine if you have a sensitivity to gluten.
Testing for gluten sensitivity is controversial. Read our blog post comparing different types of food sensitivity tests for more information!
Many people use the term “gluten allergy” to describe celiac disease or gluten intolerance. However, this is an incorrect label!
Rather, some people may develop a wheat allergy. Remember: gluten is the protein inside of wheat, but wheat is the actual grain itself. A true wheat allergy is rare and affects only 0.4 percent of the population, most of whom are children. With a wheat allergy, you must avoid any form of wheat, however, you may be able to tolerate gluten from non-wheat sources (like barley and rye)(9). Symptoms of a wheat allergy usually develop within minutes after exposure and may include itching, skin rash, and even anaphylaxis (swelling of the throat).
Should You Avoid Gluten?
Here’s the unpopular answer: it depends.
It depends on YOUR body and how YOU feel when you do or do not eat it!
People with celiac disease need to follow a gluten-free diet for life. Otherwise, it completely depends on your own individual symptoms. Nonetheless, we encourage our participants within the 131 Method to eliminate gluten at first, because we find that varying symptoms of gluten intolerance are very common nowadays.
But, you are in control of your own body, and we don’t believe in giving out standardized diet recommendations. If you reintroduce gluten later in the program and do not feel a difference, then you may be able to tolerate it in certain amounts! Just don’t binge on a big ole’ pizza and blame the gluten, because that will surely make anyone feel bloated 😉.
If you decide to eliminate gluten, choose foods that are naturally gluten-free as many packaged gluten-free items are highly processed. All of our recipes within the 131 Method are gluten-free by default!
Here are some of our favorite gluten-free recipes!