There are three main sources of gluten: Wheat (which is commonly found in breads, baked goods, pasta, cereals, soups, sauces and salad dressings), barley (which is commonly found in malt – including malted barley flour, malt extract, malt syrup, and malt vinegar, brewer’s yeast, beer, and food colouring), and rye (commonly found in rye breads like pumpernickel, cereals, and rye beer.) Additionally, triticale and oats are also two other sources of gluten. While these foods can pose no problem to some, they can be problematic for others, which is why going gluten-free is considered much more than just a fad diet. Of course, when it comes to going gluten-free, you should always make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. For example, if your decision for deciding to eliminate gluten from your diet is because you think it’s a healthier way to eat or that you will lose weight faster if you do, then you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons. As for the right reasons, the most common reasons why people go gluten-free is usually due to being diagnosed with certain medical conditions, some of which are outlined below.
Individuals with Celiac disease, for example, cannot consume gluten. Affecting an estimated 300,000 Canadians, Celiac disease is a condition in which the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten. This hypersensitivity then leads to inflammation of the small intestine as well as damage to the lining of the GI tract, making it more difficult for the body to absorb important nutrients (such as iron, calcium and vitamins.)
Among the most common symptoms of Celiac disease are those that are gastrointestinal-related, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, and bloating, while some may experience no gastrointestinal symptoms at all but may present with other symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, poor concentration, and even depression. Because it is common to develop an iron deficiency as a result of Celiac disease, you can also become anemic.
Because Celiac disease can mimic other conditions (such as irritable bowel syndrome), it can be difficult to diagnose, though some methods of testing that can be done to help with a diagnosis include antibody blood tests (IgA-tTg, IgA-EMA, and IgG-DGP), as well as testing genetic markers. A small intestine biopsy can also be sufficient in confirming a diagnosis of Celiac. Once it has been confirmed that you do, in fact, have Celiac disease, you would need to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. By doing so, this allows the intestine to heal and the symptoms to resolve.
Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH)
This is a secondary form of Celiac disease, but instead of attacking the small intestine it attacks the skin, resulting in a chronic bumpy, itchy, and oftentimes painful rash. The most telltale sign that you have DH is if the rash appears to be symmetrical. For example, if the rash appears on your left arm, your right arm will also most likely have a similar rash; and the rash will also usually appear after consuming gluten.
It’s also possible to be sensitive to gluten. Gluten sensitivity presents with symptoms similar to that of Celiac disease, but without doing damage to the stomach. If you are sensitive to gluten, then it is still best that you have a gluten-free diet.
Having to go gluten-free can be a difficult adjustment – at least initially – as there are also many hidden sources of gluten in the foods that we eat. Some examples of foods that are deemed safe and gluten-free include fruits and vegetables, meat and poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts and seeds, and beans. Foods aren’t the only things you need to be careful about, however, as gluten can also be found in some of the everyday things we use, including medications and even bath and beauty products like lipsticks, lotions and shampoos. So, it’s important that you educate yourself on what you need to avoid. Because going gluten-free can also significantly decrease important nutrients, you also need to find alternative ways to obtain them. If you’re struggling with following a gluten-free diet, you can always get additional help by speaking to a dietitian or nutritionist.
For more information on gluten, check out MedAlertHelp’s Gluten-Free Life infographic by clicking here.