An estimated 30 percent of Americans today are following a gluten free diet. Just 10 years ago, it was difficult to locate gluten free items at the grocery store. Today, we have many items available such as gluten free cake and cookie mixes. Many food labels now proclaim gluten free pledge but does gluten free equate to healthy? Should you go gluten free? What is the difference between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity? In this series, we will take a closer look at gluten and clear up some of the confusion.
Gluten is defined as a substance present in cereal grains, most commonly wheat, that is responsible for the elastic texture of dough. It is a combination of the two proteins, gliadin and glutein. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye and most processed foods. When you mix flour with water, gluten is what makes dough sticky. It is what causes baked goods to rise and have that light and fluffy texture. Sounds delicious right? So why would anyone want to avoid gluten?
Celiac is a hereditary autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases are those where your immune system produces antibodies that attack your healthy cells or tissues in an attempt to destroy them. In celiac disease, the slightest gluten exposure will cause this immune response to occur in the small intestines. This area is where we digest and absorb 90 percent of our nutrients. Symptoms can be as severe as malnutrition or anemia or as subtle as brain fog and ADHD.
It is estimated that 1 in 100 Americans have celiac disease. It can appear in children as well as adults. Celiac is diagnosed by blood tests or by a procedure in which they directly biopsy the small intestine. These specific tests are directed only to a response to gliadin and glutein. The problem is that wheat has many other fractions of proteins and enzymes that can cause reactions leading to illness. In our next article, we will talk about what it means to be gluten sensitive and how it differs from celiac disease.