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Maybe you have recently seen the phrase ‘gluten-free’ on food packaging. It’s all over our heads to go gluten-free. Next time, someone tells you about their newfound freedom from gluten, here are some questions you can ask, and the well informed answers that your friend, being a reasonable individual making educatory dietary choices, and by no means just following the latest diet craze, will tell you.

What is gluten?

Gluten is an insoluble protein composite, made up of two proteins, named gliadin and glutenin.

Where might you encounter gluten?

Gluten is found in certain grains, particularly wheat, rye, and barley.

But gluten has been present ever since human history, but why do we suddenly care about it?

When flour mixes with water, the gluten proteins form a sticky network that has a glue-like consistency.  Interestingly, the name gluten derives from this glue-like property of wet dough. Gluten is responsible for the elastic consistency of the dough, and the chewiness of the foods made from wheat flour; like bread, and pasta.

For some people, these foods cause problems, namely; Wheat allergy, celiac disease, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Wheat allergy is uncommon that occurs when a person’s immune system reacts to wheat proteins, leading to mild problems and in rare cases, a potentially dangerous reaction called anaphylaxis which is an acute allergic reaction to an antigen to which the body has become hypersensitive. If left untreated, it may lead to unconsciousness or even death.

Celiac disease also is known as Gee Herter’s disease; is an inherited disease, in which gluten leads to inflammation and damage of the lining of the small intestine.  Celiac disease is like the clinical chameleon which leads to problems like; belly pain, bloating, gas and diarrhea, weight loss, skin rash, bone problems like osteoporosis, iron deficiency, small stature, infertility, fatigue, and depression. Untreated celiac disease increases the risk of developing certain types of cancer. When blood tests suggest the possibility of celiac, the diagnosis is confirmed with a biopsy.

The most effective treatment is a gluten-free diet, which helps heal intestinal damage and improve symptoms.

There are a few foods that are naturally gluten-free and available to purchase online. These include rice, oat quinoa, flax, millet, sorghum, tapioca, buckwheat, arrowroot, amaranth, meat, fish and seafood, eggs, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, tubers, fats, such as oils and butter.

Although celiac disease is not just because of gluten.

Some people don’t have a wheat allergy or celiac disease, and subsequent improvement on a gluten-free diet. There is no reliable blood or tissue test, partly because gluten sensitivity isn’t a single disease and has a number of different possible causes. For example, gluten can activate the immune system in the small intestine, or cause it to become leaky.

Surprisingly, people claiming to have gluten sensitivity, are actually not to wheat proteins, but sugars found in wheat and other foods called fructans. The human intestine can’t break down or absorb fructans, so they make their way to the large intestine or colon. Where they are fermented by bacteria, where they start producing short-chain fatty acids and gases. This leads to unpleasant symptoms in some people with bowel problems.

Another possible explanation behind gluten sensitivity is the NOCEBO EFFECT.

This occurs when a person believes something will cause a problem; and because of this belief, it does. It’s the opposite of the more well-known and much more fortuitous PLACEBO EFFECT.

Gluten is being defamed in the media; here nocebo effect may play a role, some people who think they’re sensitive to gluten, may actually be totally tolerant. For all these reasons, it’s clear that the problem people develop when they eat wheat and other grains isn’t exclusively due to gluten; so a better name than non-celiac gluten sensitivity; might be wheat intolerance. For those who are not gluten-intolerant, there is no data to show a specific benefit in following a gluten-free diet, particularly if processed gluten-free products become the mainstay of the diet.

If you do not possess any problem against gluten, consume it in moderate amounts. This will ensure your consumption of whole grains which are linked to decreased heart health risks.  If people cut out gluten products and do not properly replace them with other carbohydrates in the diet, they could be at risk for inadequate fiber, calories, and B-vitamin intake. Always consult with a healthcare professional before trying a gluten-free diet.

Excessive consumption may create a problem because gluten proteins are highly resistant to protease enzymes that break down proteins in your digestive tract. The incomplete digestion of proteins allows for peptides — large units of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins — to cross over through the wall of your small intestine into the rest of your body.

This can trigger immune responses that have been indicated in a number of gluten-related conditions, such as celiac disease. Plus, it’s been shown to alter gut bacteria and increase intestinal permeability in people with IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease: a term for two conditions: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) and IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).

Make sure to choose healthy foods. A gluten-free label does not automatically mean that a food is healthful and gluten-free junk food is still junk food.


M. Sc. Gold Medalist

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