What Really Happens to Your Body When You Go Gluten-Free
Eliminating meat and dairy are not the only popular dietary trends these days. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, causes an immune response or reaction in some people that results in stomach problems and other ailments. According to Refaat Hegazi, medical director for Abbott’s nutrition business, some people are completely unaffected by gluten, but those with celiac disease or diagnosed gluten intolerance can experience serious health problems when they consume the protein.
When people with celiac disease eat gluten, the villi in their small intestine is affected. The villi contribute digestive secretions and increase the surface area of the small intestine for better food absorption. “In celiac disease, these villi flatten and become ineffective, causing many complications from lack of nutrient absorption including anemia, osteoporosis, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, rash, weight loss, and other issues,” says Kimberly Gomer, director of nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa. “The combination of specific blood tests and an intestinal biopsy definitively diagnoses the disease.”
Beyond celiac disease, Gomer explains that there is also an “umbrella-like diagnosis” given to people with gluten sensitivity. “Eating gluten may contribute to a host of inflammatory responses including stomach bloating, distress, gas, and other problems for people with gluten sensitivity.”
Josh Axe, a nutritionist and doctor of natural medicine, explains that the reasons some of these symptoms are occurring now is because the processing of grains has changed.
“Many years ago, up to 100 years ago, grains were sprouted or lacto-fermented, which made them much easier to digest — that’s not happening anymore,” Axe says. “Our grain has been hybridized, which means that is has double the amount of gluten it had in the past. It gives bread products a better texture, and hybridized wheat has a greater crop yield, but the increased gluten wreaks havoc on our bodies.”
If you want to spare yourself intestinal problems and mental distress, eliminating gluten may be something to consider. However, taking this protein out of your diet does not guarantee you will lose weight or that your problems will be solved. In fact, if you are not experiencing health problems that are similar to the symptoms of gluten intolerance, there is no reason to cut gluten from your diet — in fact, you could end up experiencing other problems by eliminating nutritious grains and increasing your intake of non-`nutritious foods.
“If you’re going to go gluten-free, stick with fresh produce, lean protein, and gluten-free grains to get the nutrients you need,” Hegazi says. “A balanced diet is critical to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and living your best life.”
If you are considering adopting a gluten-free diet, we compiled a list of things you can expect along the way.
A Clearer Brain
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“Studies have supported a gut-brain connection, which means that much of what goes on in our minds is actually dictated by what’s going on in our stomachs — good or bad,” Axe says. “When some people go gluten-free, it reduces their intestinal inflammation, which, in turn, reduces the likelihood of neural inflammation… This inflammation can cause brain fog or chronic fatigue syndrome, or it could lead to Alzheimer’s at more severe levels.”
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Whenever you cut something from your diet, even if it is something your body doesn’t need, it is normal to experience intense cravings. Due to the increased popularity of the gluten-free diet, many of your favorite foods now come in gluten-free versions. But it’s important to be aware that just because a product is gluten-free does not mean it’s healthier. “We just caution that they are not assuming that just because a product is gluten-free, that it is healthier — or that it will help with weight loss,” Gomer says. “Specifically gluten-free bread, crackers, pretzels, and cookies are just junk food made without wheat.”