What is Gluten & Should You Be Avoiding it?


Many people daily are affected by gluten and not just people with Celiac Disease. Everyday more and more people are asking, what is Gluten? Should I go Gluten Free? What is gluten intolerance? Can I have a gluten allergy?

Gluten is a complex composite of proteins found in such grains as: wheat, rye, and barley. The two components in gluten specifically causing gluten issues and the only ones tested are: gliadin and glutenin. When a person with celiac or sensitivities ingests gluten, the immune system takes notice and sees it as an invader. There are two parts to the immune system, the innate & adaptive.

The innate immune system is the first responders to swoop in, track down, and try to kill the toxin. When that doesn’t work and the invader overcomes the innate system, the adaptive immune system is called in as reinforcements. The problem is that gluten seems to confuse the two systems that usually work seamlessly together, creating havoc in the body.

For people with Celiac Disease, this miscommunication causes the body to attack the small intestine, destroying the villi (finger-like projections) lining the inside. The villi are responsible for absorbing the nutrients in our food. When these villi are destroyed, malabsorption, anemia, osteoporosis, as well as many other issues or illnesses may occur.

Undiagnosed celiac disease can cause major damage and affect every part of your body, not just the intestine. 300+ autoimmune diseases, cancer, diabetes, hashimotos, thyroid & mental issues, such as depression, can all be attributed to celiac disease; which is an autoimmune disease and not an allergy.

A wheat allergy is just that, an allergy, which can include: runny nose, watery eyes and at its most severe can cause an anaphylactic response. But wheat allergies are rare and may be affected by other parts of the wheat plant besides gluten. There is no such thing as a ‘gluten allergy’.

Dermatitis Herpetiformis affects your skin after eating gluten with symptoms like: redness, itching, sores, bumps.

Gluten Ataxia is a neurological disorder that, after eating gluten, can affect vision, balance and coordination. For more info: Gluten Ataxia Info

Gluten sensitivity is very similar in symptoms to celiac disease except there is no intestinal damage that has been proven thus far. Since there are so many areas that can be affected by gluten,
the list of symptoms are long and growing.

-Diarrhea and/or constipation
-Abdominal pain
-Brain fog
-Joint pain
-Depression and/or Anxiety
-Cold Sores
-extreme weight loss or weight gain
-ADD or lack of focus
-Mental Instability

Going gluten free isn’t as easy as deciding to, especially if it is not a choice but a necessity. Healing and living a gluten-free lifestyle takes research, constant awareness, and patience, which can become very overwhelming as you learn wheat gluten is in more things than you can imagine. One of the hardest and most frustrating parts about having Celiac Disease and being gluten-free is continuing to be glutened after the fact.

The first 6 months to a year were by far the hardest. I made mistake after mistake, eating things I assumed were gluten-free but weren’t like: soy sauce, licorice, French-fries or my Bloody Mary mix. I wasn’t tediously reading every label ALL the time or asking enough of the right questions. It seemed no matter how much I educated myself on the do’s & do not’s, the effects of cross contamination, reading all the labels, I was still getting sick.

Restaurant glutening and CROSS CONTAMINATION is a huge problem, especially with items that say GF. The actual ingredients they use might not have gluten but where its prepared, the pans they cook it on or the utensils used, may.

Here’s a few food examples of what to look out for:

  • sauces/dressings (wheat is used as thickening agent)
  • iced tea may contain barley
  • sausages/meatballs (wheat is used as binder)
  • a ‘roll their eyes’ type of waiter who might not take you seriously

Misc. Products that may contain wheat:

  • multi vitamin
  • aspirin coating/medications
  • cough syrup/cough drops
  • face cream/bathroom items
  • lip balm
  • pet food (make sure to wash hands after handling)
  • products that say GF but made in wheat facility using shared equipment
  • candy
  • yeast

If sharing a kitchen with a gluten person then you need to take extra precaution with:

  • utensils
  • toaster
  • pots n pans
  • shared plates
  • cutting board
  • counter crumbs
  • shared food like: peanut butter and jelly, butter, cream cheese, potato chips, etc… (crumbs remain from last user)

I suggest getting gluten-free labels for your home so it is easier for everyone to distinguish what is what. A great example of this is in a shared household; a gluten eating person dips a knife into a jar of peanut butter, spreading it on their wheat bread, dipping it back into the jar leaving gluten crumbs. The gluten-free person comes along unknowingly and uses the same peanut butter which causes a reaction.

Here are a few tips:

  • Always read Labels. If you can’t read labels, ask questions; if you do not get the answer you are looking for then do not eat it.
  • Never assume something is gluten-free, getting ‘glutened’ by something you eat is never a good situation.
  • Be aware of what cross contamination is and how it occurs.
  • It’s a good idea to always carry snacks in your car or purse when going out, meeting friends, or traveling. The worst thing is to be starving, no gluten free food available and making a bad decision to cheat.
  • Be patient and don’t give up, in the long run your body will thank you for it. Eating whole fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and meats are the best way to embody a gluten-free lifestyle.
  • Keep in mind, processed food is processed food, regardless if it is gluten free or not, gluten-free does not always mean healthy. Take gluten-free one day at a time and remember, you might be staving off now something worse gluten may cause in your body later.

Living a strict gluten free lifestyle is not always easy and most times it is a downright pain in the arse. But now that I know what the alternative is, there is no other choice for me.




Tags: CELIAC DISEASE, Gluten, Gluten Free Food

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    • Michael
    • January 8, 2015

    Kirsten, nice post, as was the one with all the great food photos (I have a BFA In Photography from U of I in Urbana). Please test your link for ataxia.

    1. Reply

      what’s ataxia?

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I was diagnosed w/ Celiac disease in 2010, after 7 agonizing years of misdiagnosis. Once I started living gluten free I felt 100% better than I did, but something was still amiss. Giving up gluten was only the beginning of my long journey to gut health and healing.

Everyone is different, there’s not one lifestyle that can work for everyone. Living the gluten free lifestyle is not an easy one and can be very overwhelming: from grocery shopping and social events, to deglutening your own household. I

Let me help you navigate through the gluten-free maze more seamlessly with tips, tricks, humor, healthy recipes and more.

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