Going, Going Gluten-Free
Athletes are doing it, Hollywood stars are doing it and maybe even you are doing it—going gluten free (GF) that is. At least two million Americans are doing it for medical reasons, such as Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder with symptoms triggered by a sticky protein, gluten, found in some grains. When a person with Celiac disease ingests gluten, it causes severe damage to the digestive tract and the immune system. A large number of non-celiac individuals are avoiding gluten, because they seem to have problems digesting it properly, or it causes some physical symptom in the body. This is the gray area that I fall into. Unfortunately, my daughter and my niece both have Celiac disease, so I've had a lot of practice being creative with gluten free lifestyle.
You can find gluten in the common flours of wheat, rye, barley and spelt (ancient cousin to wheat). There are some less common flours that contain gluten also, such as, triticale, kamut, einkorn and farro. These are ancient grains and not commonly used today.
Symptoms involving gluten sensitivity are not always isolated to the digestive system. Many of the symptoms are neurological and involve the brain, hence the new book by Dr. David Perlmutter, Grain Brain. Other possible symptoms from gluten sensitivity are vertigo, migraine headaches, anxiety, depression, tingling in the fingertips, numbness in the legs, foggy brain, insomnia, constipation, ringing in the ears, gas, bloat, diarrhea, fatigue, balance problems and dizziness to name a few. These have been some of the symptoms that I have encountered in my practice over the years. Studies strongly suggest that gluten sensitivity is separate and distinct from celiac disease.
Western medicine states there are no tests to detect gluten sensitivity. However, I have used three different functional tests that have been able to determine gluten sensitivity for my clients. A common method used by individuals is an elimination diet, where the gluten is removed from the diet for several weeks, then reintroduced to discover what physical symptoms (if any) arise from the reintroduction of gluten.
Whatever the reason for going gluten free, the increased awareness in diagnosis of Celiac disease, and the large numbers of individuals that are going sans gluten, have pushed the food manufactures to get creative and provide an abundance of new tantalizing gluten free products in the marketplace. Sales of gluten free foods have tripled since 2004. It makes going gluten free much more enjoyable.
The easiest way to live a happy gluten free lifestyle is to think about what you can have, instead of what you cannot have. When you concentrate on the positive choices, there is quite a bit left to choose from. Avoid the big three flours, wheat, rye and barley and any food or product that contains them. Any baked goods, pastas, cereals, crackers, cookies and snack foods that are made from grains other than the big three are ok to eat. Be sure to check all labels. In this country we are "wheated to death". Wheat or gluten is in almost everything: I was astonished to find out it is even in some gelato.
Other helpful tips to living a gluten free lifestyle are to become familiar with all of the many names of wheat. Make the foundation of your gluten free diet organic produce, peas, beans, lentils, organic meats, and poultry, wild caught fish, nuts, seeds, hormone free dairy products, and gluten-free whole grains. Non-GMO corn and gluten free oats are good alternatives, along with quinoa, millet, buckwheat, wild rice, amaranth, almond flour, rice flour, cashew flour, coconut flour, buckwheat flour, chickpea and lentil flour, mashed beans, wild rice, arrowroot, flax and tapioca flour/pearls.
If you are following a gluten free diet, here are some great websites with useful information:
• Celiac Central.org - CeliacCentral.org
• Shelley Case - GlutenFreeDiet.ca
• Gluten Intolerance Group - Gluten.net
• Elana's Gluten Free Pantry - ElanasPantry.com
• GFree Foodie - GFreeFoodie.com
Marietta Amatangelo is a nutritionist and wellness coach in the D.C. are.