We’ve all heard about the hazards of gluten in one way or another. It could be that one coworker who always turns down the donuts or the family member who insists on serving spaghetti squash instead of regular old spaghetti.
Most of us have a vague understanding of what gluten is and why it is potentially harmful, but it’s worth doing a deeper dive on the subject to understand exactly what’s going on. Why is everyone talking about gluten these days, and why do some folks avoid it like the plague?
If you’ve been puzzled by the gluten conundrum in recent years, let’s put an end to the confusion.
In this article, we’re giving you the final word on why gluten is considered bad in modern wellness and science circles, explaining why it's not just another fad, and offering you some tips on how to eliminate it from your life if you think it’s holding you back in any way.
What Is Gluten Exactly?
We hear the word thrown around left and right these days, but can anyone accurately define gluten in scientific terms?
As it turns out, gluten is not a single compound or substance found in our food. Instead, the term refers to a wide range of protein types belonging to the family known as prolamins—an example includes gliadin, a common wheat gluten.
Prolamins are plant storage proteins with high amino acid content and contain a number of health benefits to the body. By and large, these compounds are known to boost levels of glycogen in the muscles, fuel the brain with quick energy, and even protect vital organs.
Unfortunately, gluten has characteristics that do more harm than good for many people, as we’ll discuss soon.
The problem is that gluten is everywhere, and there’s no denying its deliciousness. Gluten can be found in whole wheat, spelt, barley, triticale, rye, and some forms of oats. It has a gluey, sticky quality to it, demonstrated in the toss-em-high pizza doughs and glossy pasta pots we know and love. From fluffy muffins to perfectly crunchy breakfast cereals, it’s gluten doing the heavy lifting in pretty much all of your favorite carbohydrates.
Our standard American diets are gluten-heavy, which makes it tough to part ways with this pernicious protein.
Of course, many of us successfully follow through on our gluten-free commitments and turn over a new leaf for health and happiness in the long run.
Why Is Gluten Bad For You
With a clearer picture of what gluten is, let’s look at what it does to our bodies.
To keep things short, our systems are simply not adapted to consume gluten in the quantities that we find in modern processed foods, and even the most iron stomachs have trouble when we overload the stomach with these gluey proteins.
Perhaps we were built to process a bit of natural gluten from time to time, but following the agricultural revolution and the mass industrialization of the food industry, we’re seeing insane concentrations of gluten in even the most simple products.
Naturally-occurring enzymes are what our bodies use to break down food and demolish unwanted agents from entering our bloodstream, and the enzymes that target gluten (protease) are not strong enough, nor great enough in number, to fully do the job.
What happens next is a crossover of large amino acid blocks (peptides) beyond the gut into other areas of the body. The small intestine is unable to fully absorb each unit of protein, and this leads to poor nutrient uptake and other issues.
This is why gluten-sensitive people often report that gluten causes abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome(IBS) as the main indicators of a negative reaction.
When the body reacts to an overload of gluten, there may also be cognitive slowdown and mood problems. That feeling you get after a huge pasta meal? You just want to lie down and take a nap! This is partially due to carb intake, but gluten plays a role too.
With gluten everywhere, it’s no surprise that so many Americans struggle with weight and other health problems, despite living in the wealthiest and most advanced civilization in history.
Celiac Disease Vs. Intolerance And Sensitivity
Doctors today all agree on some level that gluten affects us all in sub-optimal ways, but the question you need to determine for yourself is how much of a negative impact does gluten consumption have on your life each day. There are some medical conditions that can make it worse than others.
For the 1% of the population that suffers from Celiac disease, they know the harm that gluten can cause, and even a bite-sized saltine can throw them off for days. Celiac is classified as an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system and the defensive antibodies turn against itself. This causes a severe immune response that can include inflammation, joint pain, and pain throughout, as well as intestinal damage and an itchy rash known as dermatitis herpetiformis.
While Celiac is still somewhat rare, larger portions of the population are recognizing gluten intolerance, wheat allergies, and non-Celiac gluten sensitivity in other forms, waking up to the dangers of the compound. Side effects of these conditions can include anemia and fatigue.
Considering that the average person eats anywhere from 10 to 20 grams of pure gluten on a given day, we shouldn’t be shocked to see the broader health effects on our society.
Maybe you feel a bit agitated or itchy after you eat cheese and crackers, or you feel extra bloated after a sandwich with processed white bread. Following a pasta dinner, do you notice eczema irritation in certain spots, or maybe your joints start aching for no obvious reason?
These are all signs that your body has a degree of sensitivity to gluten-containing food, and nearly a third of the American public has come to recognize this reality in recent years.
You can order a test online to identify your exact level of gluten intolerance, visit an allergist or healthcare professional to get a more accurate read of a blood test, or simply take the leap and clear your system of gluten to leave the guesswork out and make a change for the better ASAP.
Is it possible to live healthfully with just a bit of gluten in your diet now and then? If you aren’t diagnosed with celiac or heavily intolerant to gluten, it’s probably no big deal. However, it’s worth trying a gluten-free diet for a while before jumping to any conclusions!
How To Heal From Gluten
So, you’ve decided to ditch the gluten for good, or at least leave it out of your diet for a while to see how you feel. Congratulations, that’s a step in the right direction, but how are you supposed to get off gluten in a safe and effective way while maintaining a healthy diet?
Cold-turkey is the best option by far—there’s no need to taper down your intake like you would with a serious medication. If you’re accustomed to eating multiple sandwiches every day and snacking on cereal between meals, you might have some headaches and moodiness to contend with, but that’s nothing some fresh fruit and plenty of clean water can’t fix.
Making the mental commitment to gluten-free living is respectable, but some folks need a clearly defined game plan so that they follow through 100%.
That’s why programs like the Whole-30 challenge are so popular and why people do juice fasts to jumpstart their systems and mark the start of a new chapter in their lives. Our bodies have an incredible capacity for healing, so fuel up properly and let the magic work.
In some cases, people find it easier to have a strategy mapped out ahead of time as they dive into a life change like a gluten-free or keto diet. We suggest sticking with just a few simple ingredients that you can rely on and avoid overcomplicating things for the first couple of days, then add different items to the mix over time. You can also speak to a dietitian or nutritionist for recommendations and medical advice if you're concerned.
New Menu, Fresh Start
In the land of gluten-free foods, the simpler, the better when it comes to nutritious meal planning.
Meat, fish, eggs, veggies, and fruits are going to be your best friends from now on, so get used to preparing them in a variety of delicious ways. Load up your pantry with plenty of spices, gluten-free sauces, herbs, and other flavor-packed additions to keep things tasting fresh and unique each day. This way, you should still be able to get your necessary allocations of B vitamins, calcium, folate, and more that most people get from gluten-rich foods.
As far as grains alternatives go, you can get a lot of mileage out of whole grains like oats, rice, and quinoa. Potatoes are also gluten-free, so you don’t have to miss out on as many classic comfort foods as you might think.
When it comes to bread, however, most gluten-free products just don’t hold up—literally. These tapioca-based bread products tend to crumble and don’t offer that same satisfying chew you expect from a classic loaf of sourdough.
That’s why we are so proud of our accomplishment in creating Superfood Bread. Our keto-friendly bread tastes amazing and withstands big, bold sandwiches, grilled cheese, and even French Toast.
We won’t sugar-coat the truth: gluten is simply not great for the human body, and most of us would be better without it. Luckily, it’s easier to go gluten-free than you may think, and with the right tools in your arsenal—like great bread—you can make a powerful change for better health.
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