What Does Gluten Free Really Mean?

I am a coeliac and have been since I was 7 years old, although I was not diagnosed till I was 13! Mine manifested as dermatitis herpetiformis (which threw doctors off, hence the late diagnosis as with most autoimmune conditions) and also damage to my poor villi. It’s a way of life for me now, and is just what it is. I don’t think about or crave “normal” foods as the pain and disfiguration is just not worth it.

I remember being told that all I could eat was rice and some gluten-free foods (which were truly awful in those days). One doctor did say it might be best to keep away from rice, but this was said in passing and I remember being confused about different advice being given. We saw a dietician who gave me a little book of places I could get gluten free foods (all processed by the way) from and also very cheerfully told me I could get bread on prescription. Yeah! Hmmm… there wasn’t any more yeahs when I tasted those vile bricks!

I do better on a paleo, grain-free diet. My gut health is in pretty good shape these days, so I will eat some well prepared gluten-free grains when the mood takes me. However, I prefer to eat the bulk of my nourishment from whole unprocessed foods. Nothing gets me salivating more than the thought of eating some yummy grilled salmon with stir-fried vegetables with a generous side of kimchi. Now, that’s what I call food! Drool!

Difference Between Gluten Sensitivity and Coeliac Disease

It used to be thought and taught that coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity were one and the same disease. However, it is now known, that coeliac disease is just one of the disease manifestations of gluten sensitivity. 

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease and is rare, affecting about 1% of the population. It tends to affect the villi of the small intestine, and occurs as a result of an immunological response to gluten.

Gluten Sensitivity is not a disease, rather it is an immune response which contributes to and covers a whole range of separate diseases if ignored. Coeliac disease is just one of many diseases under its umbrella which is triggered by genetics and the environment.

Gluten sensitivity can cause problems in and affect other systems or organs such as the skin, the musculoskeletal system, nerve damage, autoimmune diseases, hormone disruption, digestive problems, etc.

The Difference between a Traditional Gluten Free Diet and a TRUE Gluten Free Diet

Previous schools of thought described gluten as being a protein found only in wheat, barley and rye. The belief was that if you had been diagnosed with coeliac disease (with usually only gastrointestinal symptoms being diagnosed), then keeping away from foods or food products made from those foods which contained gluten would be sufficient to attain freedom from their symptoms, and achieve good health again. People were advised to seek out gluten free foods made from rice, corn, oats, etc. 

However, doing this did not in majority of cases resolve the problems the patients presented with. A very few percentage of patients, reported as 8% got relief from their symptoms and improved, but the vast majority of them do not get better at all, and a few did feel worse. 

A traditional gluten free diet emphasises the elimination of food which contain wheat, rye, oats and barley. Patients usually then seek out alternative versions of their favourite processed foods like gluten free bread, cereals, biscuits and pasta. Obviously, eating these nutrient deficient foods as the bulk of the diet whether fortified or not is not the path to true health or resolution from their symptoms. Could eating foods such as these be the reason why they do not get better?

Gluten is a mixture of proteins made up of prolamines and glutenins, which is found in ALL grains.  Alpha gliadin is the most popular prolamine that is talked about, and possibly the most studied protein. However, different cereal grains, including those advised on the traditional gluten free diet contain their different and problematic versions of “gluten” (in susceptible individuals) or better yet their versions of prolamine such as:

            Gliadin in wheat;

            Avenin in oats;

            Zein in corn;

            Orzenin in rice, etc.

As shown above, some form of gluten is present in all the grains previously believed to gluten free. This means that the traditional gluten free diet is not ideal for those who are genetically susceptible to the myriad of effects of gluten on their body systems. 

So, What is a True Gluten Free Diet?

A TRUE gluten free diet needs to eliminates ALL cereal grains such as sorghum, millet, teff, corn, rice, as well as wheat rye, oats and barley. Also, other foods may need to be eliminated due to cross reactivity and cross contamination, foods like dairy, coffee, etc,. Such a diet needs to focus on whole, unprocessed foods such as the “paleolithic” diet, a diet based on non-cereal grains, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, wild grass fed and grass finished meats, pastured poultry, wild caught seafood, organic and free range eggs, etc.  

As with most things, it all comes down to the individual. Don’t be scared to experiment, but it you’re allergic, please keep away from your particular “Danger Foods”.

A focus on healing the gut will improve chances of being able to eat a diverse range of foods for most people. However, if you are a coeliac, you will need to stick to a true gluten-free diet, while also working on healing your gut. Doing this may help you tolerate the other traditional gluten-free foods on occasion.

If you or someone you know is suffering from gluten sensitivity or food allergies, it’s important to find a functional medicine practitioner to find and treat the root cause of the issue.

I believe the best way to treat food allergies is with a whole-body approach. This is why it’s important to talk to your functional medicine practitioner. If you’re in the Preston, Chorley or Blackburn areas and are experiencing the symptoms of IBS, click here to contact me. I also work with people globally. I look forward to helping you on your journey to whole-body health!

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