Skip the Wheat; October is National Celiac Awareness Month

             With all the increased consciousness about avoiding gluten, thanks at least in part to how much the real diet paleo approach has grown, many people are avoiding gluten, despite not having a diagnosis of Celiac Disease.

              I’m amongst that group of people; not having touched gluten in over a decade.

              I don’t have Celiac Disease, yet through simple trial and error after years of being ill, I figured out that gluten was the primary culprit.

              Is it necessary for all of us to avoid gluten, or is it an overreaction for anyone who doesn’t have the illness to avoid it at all costs?

             Based on my experience both with my own history of GI issues as well as years of working with clients, I’d vouch for the former, but let’s explore.

            Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.  It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide.  Two and one-half million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications[1].

            So, you’re having mysterious stomachaches, or migraine headaches or joint pain or any of the other many symptoms that can present with Celiac, but your doctor can’t quite put her finger on what’s going on.

            Perhaps you read about this disease and ask to be tested for it, but after the results come in you’re told you don’t actually have Celiac, and therefore, there’s no need to cut out gluten, right?

            Oh, I beg to differ.

            The symptoms of gluten sensitivity are similar to those of celiac disease. People who are gluten sensitive experience symptoms in response to eating gluten, but will not have intestinal damage and will test negative for celiac disease antibodies[2].

It’s not a black and white deal and while it’s an absolute fact that anyone with Celiac should definitely be avoiding gluten, as well as casein and perhaps even coffee due to potential cross reactivity[3], it’s completely false to state that if someone doesn’t have the diagnoses, that it’s a good idea to carry on eating this protein found in wheat, oats, barley and rye.

            There are a number of factors to consider when making the decision to go gluten free or not, and several commonly made mistakes that can skew the desired outcome of one’s choice to cut out gluten in the first place.

            A great starting point for someone who is confirmed not to have Celiac Disease is to simply implement the principles of a true paleo approach for a good month, doing so with as close to 100% compliance, and then, if you wish, to test foods containing gluten one at a time.

            Consider this a means to create a clean slate, so that you can rest assured that the foods you opt to experiment with are those that cause a reaction, or don’t, and to then be able to identify which ones work for you.

            Following an 80/20% rule, or whichever percentage you feel most comfortable with should ideally occur after this trial period, rather than during.

            A little bit of gluten is still enough to elicit symptoms, even if you’ve cut down significantly, and if, after the one month clean eating trial period, you eat a bagel, some pasta or a croissant and wake up the next morning with a bloated belly, acne or mental fogginess, it’s safe to say you may be better off avoiding gluten.

            Worried that by cutting out gluten-containing foods that you’ll somehow compromise the nutrient density of your diet?

            Actually, just the opposite is true[4].

            Gluten compromises your body’s ability to properly absorb both micro and macro nutrients, creating a situation where, on top of not feeling well, you can actually become malnourished despite what may be an otherwise healthy diet.

            And as far as the reasoning to go gluten free, even if you don’t have Celiac Disease goes, don’t make the mistake of doing it because you’ve heard it’s the ticket to weight loss.

            While the magnitude of continuing to consume gluten for anyone with Celiacs is great, the awareness has simultaneously perpetuated a food trend.

            Entire aisles in the grocery store are stocked with gluten free breads, cakes, cookies and the like, most of which are nothing but highly processed, refined grain products with little to no nutritional value. A gluten free brownie is still a brownie!

            If you’re toying with trying a gluten free approach, just make sure you give it a whole hearted try for a long enough period of time before you judge whether you do or don’t want to stick with it.

            Even if you have no reason to think you may have Celiac disease, unless you can honestly say that you spring out of bed every morning, full of energy, positive mental focus, experience regular digestion and excellent sleep, there could well be something amiss and gluten could certainly play a role in it.

            There’s nothing to lose by ditching it!


[1] “What Is Celiac Disease?” Celiac Disease Foundation. The Celiac Disease Foundation, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2015

[2] “Diagnosing Celiac Disease – Celiac Disease Foundation.” Celiac Disease Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2015

[3] “Foods That Cross-React with Gluten.” Amy Myers MD. N.p., 04 Mar. 2013. Web. 13 Oct. 2015

[4] Stephenson, Nell. “Antinutrients, the Antithesis of True Paleo | The Paleo Diet.” The Paleo Diet. N.p., 10 Mar. 2015. Web. 13 Oct. 2015