Gluten and Your Gut

Posted on December 28th, 2013 by in Healthy Living, Nutrition, Studies, News, and Trends

gluten-freeMore and more doctors are looking at food sensitivities, not just full-blown allergies (think peanuts or shellfish), as a way to understand chronic digestive problems and irritable bowel syndrome.

Ninety percent of all food-related allergic reactions in the United States come from just eight foods. They are milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts. Out of the eight, there has been a new focus on wheat (more specifically the protein in wheat called gluten) as an increasing number of people seem to have trouble digesting it.

When I was first diagnosed with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) in my 20s, extensive allergy testing found that I wasn’t allergic to wheat or gluten, though my “gut” was telling me otherwise. Around that time, I noticed that I would feel exhausted and bloated after eating pasta or pizza, or drinking a beer—so I was surprised that the tests didn’t back up my hunch.

Kripalu nutritionist Kathie Madonna Swift, MS, RD, LDN, recommends paying attention to what your body is telling you. She says that even if tests don’t show you have a full-blown wheat or gluten allergy, you can still have a reaction to eating gluten. Some have what’s known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity and this can cause the same symptoms as someone with full-blown celiac disease. Either way, Kathie says, you’ll benefit from a gluten-free diet.

In her program Digestive Health: A Holistic Approach, Kathie explains that there’s growing evidence that gluten and even some dairy intolerances are related to not only abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation but also a host of autoimmune diseases and medical problems not necessarily associated with the gut. Those include acne, thyroid issues, osteoporosis, and, surprisingly, neurological conditions.

Kathie and Kripalu Lead Nutritionist Annie B. Kay, MS, RDN, LDN, RYT, advise those who think that they may have a gluten sensitivity to try an elimination diet during their stay at Kripalu. There’s no “one size fits all” approach to going gluten-free, Annie says; she suggests keeping a daily food journal to record how you feel after a meal, so that you can start to notice if your digestion is improving.

If you’ve thought about going gluten-free or want to know more, here are some helpful guidelines.

What grains can you eat on a gluten-free diet?

Amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, rice, and teff.

What foods contain gluten?

One of the challenges of cutting out gluten is that it’s is in far more than just wheat products. Did you know that couscous, matzoh, spelt, pumpernickel, and malt beverages all contain gluten? Here’s a guide to gluten-containing products:

  • Wheat: bulgar, couscous, cracked wheat, dinkel, durum, einkorn, emmer, faro, farina, graham, hydrolyzed wheat starch, kamut, matzoh, orzo, seitan, semolina, spelt, sprouted grains (wheat), wheat bran, wheat germ, wheat grass, wheat starch, wheat berries, Wheatena, whole wheat.
  • Rye: all forms including rye, whole rye, rye flour, pumpernickel, or triticale (a cross between wheat and rye).
  • Barley: all forms of barley, malt, malt beverages, malt flavoring, malt extract, malt syrup, malt vinegar.
  • Oats: all forms of oats, steel-cut oats, oatmeal, oat bran, oat flour (however, you can look for certified gluten-free oats).
  • Flour: plain flour, white flour, wheat flour, whole wheat flour, whole white flour, self-rising flour, enriched flour, durum flour, gluten flour, bromated flour, unbleached flour, graham flour, barley flour, rye flour, oat flour.

A final word to the wise: Annie recommends avoiding “gluten-free junk food”—highly processed snack bars, cereals, and gluten substitutes, which are often loaded with sugar. Instead, opt for whole foods—a piece of fruit or cut-up vegetables. A lot of gluten-free products are highly processed and can irritate one’s digestion and cause other health issues.

 

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About Jennifer Mattson

Jennifer Mattson is a journalist, writer, yogini, and kirtan junkie. A former volunteer resident at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, she’s a former broadcast news producer for CNN and National Public Radio. Her reporting and writing have appeared in The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, USA Today and the Women’s Review of Books.
  • martha chabinsky

    I have discovered that ‘natural flavoring’ is quite often barley….so avoid that. Also, ‘soy lecithin’ is a new thing to avoid according to the celiac websites. Coffee contains a protein that can react and cause a gluten reaction. Powdered sugar contains flour to keep it from caking as grated cheese contains cellulose for the same reason. There’s a LOT to learn!

    • Jennifer

      Thanks so much Martha. I found tips like this, really helpful to me and others.

  • KripaluEditor

    Martha,
    Thanks for reading and commenting. Great point about natural flavorings, as well!
    Those with sensitivities have to be mindful in this complicated world of processed foods!

  • Drew

    A recent Spirituality & Health article mentioned studies that show that it’s the modification of wheat that seems to be making it more difficult for people to stomach. So – a lot of people who think they have gluten sensitivities (or read articles like these which encourage gluten-free diets without truly exploring what’s going on) – actually are sensitive to modified wheat, and are fine with other foods containing gluten.

    I’m all for using elimination and journaling an mindful awareness or discovering what foodstuff body is not happy with – but, this is a great example where over-simplification can thrust people into what is frankly a challenging regime without realizing that they’re only sensitive to modified gluten – which is the case with the majority of the new/emerging sensitivities.)

    Once again, an example to take any article about food intake – whether it is from mainstream media or even Kripalu – with a grain of salt and a lot of mindful self-exploration.

    • Jennifer

      Thanks Drew for your
      thoughtful comments and your contribution to the discussion. This topic
      is a sensitive one for many people, given how the medical community is
      still in the relatively early stages of trying to understand the effects
      of
      current effects of wheat and gluten on people today. It’s also clearly
      an emotional topic for many who have been suffering food-related
      symptoms and diseases like celiac disease and Crohn’s disease. As you
      and Annie say there’s no “one size fits all” approach to figuring
      out if we have a wheat, gluten or modified wheat or modified gluten
      sensitivity, allergy or other digestive reaction. It’s different for
      each person. As is true with all medical issues, testing, consulting
      your doctor, paying attention to what works for you and making your own
      informed decisions, is the best course of action. Again, thank you.

    • KripaluEditor

      Thanks, Drew, for your thoughtful comments and your contribution to the discussion. This topic is a sensitive one for many people, given how the medical community is still in the relatively early stages of trying to understand the effects of wheat and gluten on the human body. It’s also clearly an emotional topic for many who have been suffering food-related symptoms and diseases like celiac disease and Crohn’s disease. As you and Annie say there’s no “one size fits all” approach to figuring out if we have a wheat, gluten, or modified wheat or modified gluten
      sensitivity, allergy or other digestive reaction. It’s different for each person. As is true with all medical issues, testing, consulting your doctor, paying attention to what works for you and making your own informed decisions, is always the best course of action. —Jennifer Mattson, Writer

  • Jennifer

    Drew, thanks for your
    thoughtful comments and your contribution to the discussion. This topic
    is a sensitive one for many people, given how the medical community is
    still in the relatively early stages of trying to understand the effects
    of
    current effects of wheat and gluten on people today. It’s also clearly
    an emotional topic for many who have been suffering food-related
    symptoms and diseases like celiac disease and Crohn’s disease. As you
    and Annie say there’s no “one size fits all” approach to figuring
    out if we have a wheat, gluten or modified wheat or modified gluten
    sensitivity, allergy or other digestive reaction. It’s different for
    each person. As is true with all medical issues, testing, consulting
    your doctor, paying attention to what works for you and making your own
    informed decisions, is the best course of action. Again, thank you.

  • SecularAnimist

    Two comments.

    First, most people do NOT have “gluten sensitivity” let alone gluten allergy or celiac disease, and for those people wheat, rye, barley and oats are nutritious foods that can be an important part of a balanced, varied plant-based diet. Certainly if you are having symptoms, a carefully monitored trial elimination diet to investigate the POSSIBILITY of gluten sensitivity makes sense (along with an appropriate medical evaluation). But it does not make sense to go “gluten-free” as just another fad diet.

    Second, it strikes me as odd when the author writes that “EVEN some dairy intolerances” may cause digestive problems, as though that were surprising — even though, as this article itself notes, dairy products are THE number one cause of food allergies in the USA, and many people have difficulty digesting dairy products. Indeed, the great majority of adult human beings in the world are “lactose intolerant” and cannot digest milk. While “lactose intolerance” is treated as a digestive disorder in the USA, in reality it is the normal state of all adults — not only humans, but ALL MAMMALS, who in nature do not consume mother’s milk past the age of weaning.

    In short, if you are experiencing digestive problems of possible dietary origin and you consume both grains and dairy products, I would strongly suggest you start by eliminating dairy rather than grains. I have known a number of people who saw long-standing, intractable health problems disappear almost overnight when they stopped consuming dairy products.

    • Cat

      Thank you so much for this comment. Yes, for the few people who are allergic/sensitive to gluten, cutting that substance out of their diet is life changing. Because it’s life changing for them they think they need to spread the word. The intention is great but the delivery is usually off. The majority of people in the world handle gluten just fine, so gluten free individuals do not need to push their diets on others and generalize their lifestyle to a majority. I feel so much better when I incorporate whole (gluten-containing) grains. The one time I went gluten free I was absolutely miserable, low energy, and actually had more digestive issues than before. I have seen gluten free diets work wonders for specific individuals but it’s certainly not for everyone <3

  • Sally Porter

    I began having rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and found that they disappeared if I eliminated gluten (as in processed flour) from my diet. I have since had blood tests to determine that I do indeed have RA. So listening to my body has worked for me.

    • KripaluEditor

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Sally. Sending you the best.

  • Jennifer

    Thanks SecularAnimist for your comments about dairy and the issue of dairy intolerance. As someone who is lactose intolerant and a writer on these issues, I appreciate your suggestions and that you took the time to weigh in with your experience. —Jennifer Mattson, Writer