How a Gluten-Free Diet Can Benefit Your Health

Celiac disease is a genetic condition where the immune system negatively reacts to gluten. Learn more about how to incorporate a gluten-free diet here.

A man having a gluten-free diet breakfast while refusing to eat the bread

Gluten is the name for proteins found in wheat, rye, spelt, or barley-based products. Essentially, gluten “glues” food together, helping it maintain its shape and texture. While a big part of many of our lives, people with celiac disease can’t eat gluten and have to adopt a gluten-free diet. Celiac disease is a genetic disorder where gluten attacks the small intestine and damages the villi, a small projection that helps with nutrient absorption. Thus, when it’s damaged the body can’t absorb food properly.

“Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains, including wheat, rye, spelt, and barley. The two main proteins in it are glutenin and gliadin. Gliadin is responsible for most of the adverse health effects of gluten. When flour mixes with water, glutenin forms a sticky network that has a glue-like consistency. This property makes the dough elastic, whereas gliadin gives bread the ability to rise during baking. It also provides a chewy, satisfying texture,” says Chief Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician Chu I Ta at Real Health Medical clinic in Singapore. 

“Over the years, the food industry has used gluten to improve texture and flavoring to satisfy cravings. This change in diet and eating habits may slowly affect our spleen and digestion, leading to many newly discovered allergy issues today,” adds physician Chu. 

Today, there are many commercially-available gluten-free food products, ranging from cakes to bread to pasta to soy sauce, that make it easier to adapt to this lifestyle. Read on to learn more about incorporating this plan and the many facets of the gluten-free diet.

Following a Celiac Disease Gluten-Free Diet

A woman on gluten-free diet refusing ot eat bread
If you have celiac disease, eating a small amount of gluten can trigger your immune system reaction.

There are currently 200 known celiac disease symptoms, which makes this disease difficult to diagnose. Some signs include common ailments such as stomach pain, fatigue, anemia, skin rashes, joint pain, arthritis, anxiety, and depression. It is important to see a doctor should you be experiencing any of these related symptoms. A doctor will ask for your history and may conduct a celiac disease blood test or order a biopsy.

Currently, 3 million people in America have celiac disease. If diagnosed, you will have to avoid food that contains gluten. The tricky thing about celiac is that it can happen at any age, and left untreated can lead to serious health issues, such as bowel cancer, malnutrition, osteoporosis, coronary artery disease, or the development of other autoimmune disorders like Type I Diabetes. Dietary changes, with the guidance of your doctor or nutritionist, makes this disease easy to manage.

Avoid gluten

Essentially, people with celiac disease can’t eat foods that contain gluten. This includes wheat such as bread, pasta, cereals, sauces, salad dressings; barley such as malt, beer, and yeast; and rye such as rye bread and rye beer. Many conventional products are now gluten-free, allowing you to eat pasta or bread. Pay attention to labels as manufacturers can only indicate that a product is gluten-free if they meet all of the requirements established by the FDA. Additionally, there are many gluten-free restaurants and alternatives popping up all over the country, making it easier to adapt to this diet.

What you can eat on a gluten-free diet

A young couple reading a cookbook filled with gluten-free recipes
You can still enjoy a rich diet, filled with healthy foods when going gluten-free.

While gluten is out, there are many healthy foods you can still consume. Stick to a diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables, legumes, eggs, nuts, lean meats, fish, and poultry, and low-fat dairy products are some samples.

According to physician Chu, TCM remedies can complement a gluten-free diet. Herbs can boost immunity and reduce the risk of allergies. This includes ginseng (ren shen) and cordyceps (dong chong xia cao), which can strengthen the lungs. Additionally, poria (fu ling), while euryale seed (qian shi), and goji berry (gou qi zi) can improve the kidneys and tonify the spleen.

However, if you have a gluten intolerance or allergy, you should avoid certain herbs. These include unripened wheat grain (fu xiao mai), medicated leaven (shen qu), and barley sprout (mai ya) as they contain some gluten. Patients who have or might have a gluten allergy should consult a TCM physician before consuming Chinese herbs. 

Understanding Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

A woman holding her stomach in pain as she sits on a chair
Brain fog and stomach pain are symptoms associated with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

There are also reports showing that many people suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). However, this is not celiac and doesn’t affect the tissues of the small intestine. It indicates that the body has some sensitivity to gluten, causing bloating, diarrhea, constipation, joint pain, and brain fog. It is estimated that 18 million Americans have a sensitivity to gluten.

If you have IBS, abdominal discomfort, or brain fog, you might want to try a gluten-free to see if you have NCGS. Additionally, “leaky gut syndrome” is a new area of research after scientists discovered that specific gluten molecules are capable of “leaking” into our bloodstreams from the intestine. These molecules could be why individuals with celiac disease, NCGS, and gluten allergy experience symptoms when they eat gluten. Even for healthy individuals, proteins can “leak” into the bloodstream, causing inflammation. 

TCM believes the kidney jing and the spleen system contribute to weakness or immunity disorders, causing allergies. “While kidney jing is a congenital essence that comes from our parents which we cannot alter, we can adopt positive lifestyle habits to help strengthen our spleen qi,” says physician Chu.

“By having a moderate amount of any food ingredients, regular exercise, and adequate sleep, we can control allergy attacks like gluten intolerance better.” 

A Gluten-Free Diet Isn’t for Everyone

Many people who don’t have celiac are increasingly becoming gluten-free. They believe it has weight loss and health benefits. However, some researchers argue that switching to a gluten-free diet isn’t for everyone. It can potentially do more harm than good. 

A gluten-free diet can deprive the body of essential micronutrients since alternatives generally contain less fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The process of eliminating gluten removes these nutritional components. However, you can get nutrients from other sources of food or beverage. One of them is Salus floradix iron, a botanical beverage mix high in iron, vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, and vitamin C.

Although, this diet won’t help you to lose weight. Many gluten-free products like muffins and cakes contain more calories and sugar than non-gluten-free varieties. Manufacturers usually add more salt, fat, starch, and sugar to gluten-free baked goods to compensate for the lack of taste, consistency, and texture. From this point of view, going gluten-free may result in weight gain. Consult a nutritionist who can create a plan specific to you if you want to lose weight.

A gluten-free diet is beneficial to those who have celiac disease. Those who suffer from IBS, abdominal discomfort, and have difficulty focusing should rule out intolerance to certain carbohydrates before considering a gluten-free diet. If you have to go gluten-free, complement your diet with foods rich in fiber, minerals, and vitamins. This lifestyle is easily adaptable to our modern life thanks to many conventional products that are now gluten-free.

References

  1. Celiac Disease Foundation. 2020. What is Gluten?. [Accessed on December 10, 2021]
  2. Celiac Disease Foundation. 2021. What is Celiac Disease?. [Accessed on December 10, 2021]
  3. Mayo Clinic. 2021. Gluten-free diet. [Accessed on December 10, 2021]
  4. Beyond Celiac. 2021. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. [Accessed on December 10, 2021]
  5. Beyond Celiac. 2021. Symptoms of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. [Accessed on December 10, 2021]
  6. Mayo Clinic. 2015. Gluten-Free Diet Basics – It’s Not for Everyone. [Accessed on December 10, 2021]
  7. Medical News Today. 2020. What is gluten, and why is it bad for some people?. [Accessed on December 10, 2021]
  8. FDA. 2020. Gluten-Free Labeling of Foods. [Accessed on December 10, 2021]

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