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Gluten-free: is it for everybody?
have no problem with gluten, maybe you are asking yourself whether you are
normal. Nowadays, it seems like nobody tolerates gluten! So let’s put things
back into perspective.
First, what is gluten? Gluten is the protein fraction of flour, mostly wheat flour but also rye and barley. It is what gives the elastic properties to the flour, which is why most breads and baked goods contain gluten. Our diet has been based on wheat for many centuries, but it is only in the past 100 years that it has been so widely used in the food industry, and not only baked goods. There is gluten in commercial broth, in seasonings, in cold cuts, and in milk products; it is literally everywhere, which makes it hard to avoid.
On the internet, you’ll find a lot of reasons to avoid gluten. In reality, the only widely recognized medical reason for avoiding gluten is coeliac disease, which affects 1% of the population. It is an auto-immune condition where gluten does great harm to the intestinal barrier and is usually diagnosed by blood tests and a biopsy.
However, a condition slowly gaining recognition is Non-coeliac Gluten Sensitivity, which is not auto-immune but produces similar symptoms. Studies show it could affects up to 6% of the population. They both produce a wide range of symptoms, and not only of digestive nature. Coeliacs can have skin manifestations, joint pain, extreme fatigue as well as diarrhea or constipation. Gluten sensitivity also affects the whole body but, the digestive symptoms are usually less spectacular, and it does not increase blood markers found with coeliac disease, making diagnosis even harder than coeliac disease.
Years can pass before someone can link fatigue, joint pain or headaches or depression to the diet, since these symptoms are so widespread. It is usually the person who, accidently or not, finds out that avoiding gluten eliminates the symptoms. Coeliacs and non-coeliac gluten sensitive individuals have a good reason to avoid gluten because it literally brings back their quality of life. But for most of us, avoiding gluten will create more harm than good. Gluten-free diets are NOT for everyone.
If there are symptoms involved, that’s another story. But gluten-free doesn’t mean bread-free, carb-free or fiber-free. And if you rely on commercial gluten-free products, it’s certainly not free, and not trouble-free.
I see too many people in my office that spent months trying to learn on their own how avoid it and end up very confused. And there are rules to follow. For example, a test for coeliac should always precede any gluten-free trial because avoiding gluten, even for a month can bias test results. If you are coeliac, you want to know it in order to get a proper follow-up. Once you confirm there is no coeliac disease but symptoms are still present, get help from an experienced dietician who will help you see clearly through all this and decide if the benefits are worth the inconvenience.
As with many things in life, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right! Gluten exclusion is one of those things that cannot be done right without proper counsel.
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