You’ve heard about it, read about it, and are continuously bombarded by it during every trip to the grocery store. Gluten (or more specifically the lack thereof) is a hugely popular dietary trend that shows few signs of waning. In fact, food manufacturers seem embroiled in what amounts to an arms race of gluten free product creation in the hopes of capturing anyone choosing to go without it. So with so many people deciding to drop it from their diets, should you consider it, too? And if you did, would it actually make a difference for you?
What You Should Know About Gluten
First of all, what is gluten? Well, it’s actually the name for the protein found in wheat (and also rye, barley, farina and others). Gluten is what gives bread its chewiness, helps it to rise in the oven, and also hold it’s shape after baking. The odd thing about this naturally occurring substance, however, is that it’s the only protein humans cannot break down and digest. Because of that unique characteristic, it’s considered an enemy and is summarily attacked by the body’s immune system.
But actually that’s not the big issue. Some 99% of the population will still have no problem eating it, as the immune system routinely takes care of the gluten just as intended and they continue on with their day without incident and none the wiser.
Where the actual complications start is for people suffering from and diagnosed with celiac disease. In their case, the immune system overreacts to the intruder protein and a normally routine attack response quickly escalates into a full-scale invasion, leaving small intestine inflammation and damage in its wake. What’s more, celiac disease can manifest itself at any age and once you have it, it’s something you’ll be dealing with for the rest of your life.
Ironically enough, the widespread coverage of going “gluten free” has actually benefitted those who have no choice but to eat like that. Without such a surge in popularity, there may never have been the number of gluten free products on the market that there are today. There are literally hundreds of known celiac disease symptoms, but if, for example, you find yourself experiencing pain and bloating, fatigue, irritability or anger, speak with your health care provider about scheduling a celiac screening blood test.