It seems everywhere I turn these days, ‘gluten free’ has become all the rage. This is in NO way to disparage the need for gluten free products. As a semi-gluten free baker myself (I’m not gluten intolerant, but am a therapeutic chef) – I am thrilled there is more awareness and that the choices are more widely available AND tasty, too. But I am often asked if it is necessary or healthier to remove gluten from our diets entirely. The answer is complex and variable. Let’s explore…
Celiac disease is an auto-immune digestive condition triggered by consumption of the protein gluten, which is found in bread, pasta, cookies, pizza crust and many other foods containing wheat, barley, rye and other derivatives of wheat. (Oats do not contain gluten but are often cross-contaminated with wheat in processing.) When people with celiac disease eat foods that contain gluten, an immune reaction occurs causing damage to the villi in the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients. Eventually, the malabsorption of nutrients that occurs with celiac disease can cause vitamin deficiencies that deprive the brain, nervous system, bones, liver and other organs of vital nourishment. Celiac disease – also known as celiac sprue or gluten sensitive enteropathy (GSE) – is most often genetic and affects about 1 in 133 people in the U.S. but only 1-in-4,700 is ever diagnosed. Or, often times celiac disease is misdiagnosed, and when left untreated can lead to other health problems such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, obesity, and autism in children.
There are numerous studies on causes and symptoms of gluten intolerance, but only the treatment is constant: it must be handled through diet. Because it is so hard to diagnose, often times people attribute their migraine headache or indigestion (for example) to something else. The best way to determine if you are gluten intolerant – or celiac – is by a medical test through Entero Lab. This can be ordered through your physician. Standard food allergy tests have been less reliable, according to associates I know who have tested negative, then found they were in fact celiac through the Entero report.
So, for those of us who don’t have gluten sensitivities, bring on the white flour, right? Ha ha. Not on this girl’s watch:) But that doesn’t mean you have to stay away from whole grains, such as spelt or rye or even whole wheat. It’s just that sometimes wheat can be more difficult to digest than grains such as quinoa or brown rice. (That’s where sprouting comes in!) Grains in their most natural state (as in less refined) offer a multitude of nutrients, especially B vitamins (to help reduce stress); and fiber which helps reduce cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease. Listen to your body (and if it’s making too many noises, eliminate that food for four days and reintroduce slowly.)
For more information on celiac disease, visit Celiac.com
For a fabulous gluten free flour mix, try Bob’s Red Mill. Also available at Whole Foods and your local health food stores.
And check out my favorite site by Elana for gluten free recipes using almond flour. It’s a fabulous alternative!