“So, is gluten really that bad for you?” This is probably the single question I am asked most often when people find out I am a nutritionist. So, what IS the answer? It's actually not that simple. There are a few factors that need to be taken into account.
Many people I've talked to have commented that they don't believe in non-Celiac gluten intolerance for a number of reasons. Articles and videos have popped up allover the place from varying sources talking about its non-existence. Others are skeptical because it has become such a wide-spread food sensitivity. Others think that “gluten intolerance” is a fancy term for a weight-loss diet.
This topic requires a brief overview of food sensitivities in general. It is possible to develop a food intolerance or allergy to any food. A food allergy, which is caused by a type of antibody characterized as IgE, manifests itself within two hours of being exposed to the allergen. A food intolerance, which can be caused by the antibodies IgG or IgA, tends to display symptoms 6-48 hours after exposure to the allergen. Symptoms can vary from gastrointestinal issues, headaches, skin problems, depression, and many, many others. Because of its wide variety of symptoms and its slow reaction time, an intolerance can be extremely difficult to pinpoint without testing. Celiac Disease is another kind of reaction, and will not be addressed in this article.
Intestines are naturally porous. That's how nutrients find their way from the digestive system to the bloodstream. In a healthy digestive system, these pores are small and only allow fully digested particles through. However, inflammation (from toxins in preservatives, stress, etc.) can lead to an increase in the size of the pores. This is what is commonly known as leaky gut syndrome.
Many food sensitivities develop from frequent exposure to the same ingredients. Our bodies produce enzymes to digest different foods. Eating the same foods over and over depletes the enzyme availability. When the enzyme supply is low, food is not broken down as easily.
Undigested food particles, combined with leaky gut syndrome, can lead to large food particles finding their way to the bloodstream. Our antibodies see these large food particles as intruders and begin attacking them. Every time these large particles enter the bloodstream, they are recognized as intruders, and our bodies launch an attack against these so-called intruders, causing all kinds of symptoms.
Gluten is a protein found in different grains, including wheat. Since wheat is one of the most consumed ingredients in the Standard American Diet (SAD), gluten intolerance is becoming more and more prevalent. Gluten finds its way not only to breads, cereals, crackers, and pasta, but also to many packaged soups, gravies, sauces, flavourings, and pretty well any other packaged item you can think of.
Many people have heard that a gluten free diet is healthier than the SAD. Some of these people are choosing to follow a gluten free diet for that reason, buying packaged gluten free foods that are loaded with corn, sugar, and all kinds of chemical preservatives. So, if you ask me if a gluten free diet is healthier, if this is the diet you had in mind, my answer will be a definite “no”. You may avoid developing a gluten intolerance that way, but you just may develop an intolerance to corn instead. Or rice. Or potatoes. You get the gist.
So, is gluten really bad for you? Ultimately, it's up to you to decide what's right for your body and your health. Gluten or no gluten, I like to encourage people to follow a whole foods diet that includes a lot of variety. This sort of diet naturally cuts down on gluten consumption.