The stigmatism around gluten has been growing especially as more and more people have discovered food allergies and digestive problems with their diets. In fact, 1 in 100 people have celiac disease (Celiac Disease Foundation, 2022). Complaints of diarrhea, fatigue, nausea, bloating, and anemia warrant a trip to the doctor who is likely to ask you about the foods you are consuming. Nearly 80% of people with celiac disease go undiagnosed for a prolonged period living in pain and discomfort before seeking help or finding the culprit (Celiac Disease Foundation, 2022). Eventually the two-step process for a blood test and endoscopy would find celiac disease. The large intestine is speaking to you, but the cause of discomfort isn’t always clear at first. Sometimes by elimination, one can discover it’s gluten that is causing havoc. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, and rye, which are ingredients in many processed foods and bread type items. Most of us have lived a life with plenty of bread, buns, cereals, pastries, noodles, crackers, and bagels. Take those away and real, whole foods are put in place by default that are gluten free.
What’s interesting is that many people don’t develop celiac disease until later in life. It’s important to address it right away because the gluten allergy is causing the lining of the small intestine to not absorb nutrients as it should. Malabsorption can lead to nutritional deficiencies, hence some of the side effects of fatigue and discomfort occur because the body isn’t getting what it needs for functioning. Most people with celiac disease are deficient in iron, fiber, calcium, folate, zinc, B12, and vitamin D (Celiac Disease Foundation, 2022). To date, there is no cure-all for celiac disease other than just adjusting one’s diet accordingly or taking medications that address side effects.
Not all celiac disease side effects are necessarily digestive related. Other side effects due to the allergy include skin rashes, blisters, joint pain, headaches, dysfunction to the spleen, and numbness in hands and feet. Dermatitis herpetiformis can develop on the elbows, knees, scalp and buttock which causes a very itchy and blistering rash. Getting rid of gluten is needed and there is medication for this.
It actually all boils down to having a leaky gut. When eating gluten and a person is sensitive to it, zonulin is released. It is a protein that when not activated correctly, causes tight junctions in the lining of the gut, which then leads to the leaky gut. When a person has a leaky gut, toxins and even gluten gets released into the bloodstream. A leaky gut can be a big deal because 70 to 80% of our immune system is located in our gut and our gut is our second brain. When our gut is not in proper operating ability, health risks are rampant (Johnson, 2015).
This does not mean that gluten is bad for everyone, and there is no long-term association between poor health or increased poor health risks for persons who consume gluten their whole life. Although not scientifically backed, there have been claims that all people should partake in a gluten-free diet suggesting that the modern digestive system is not equipped to break down the proteins from gluten. For those who do eliminate gluten, there can be benefits and claims of feeling better mainly because getting rid of gluten naturally leads to getting rid of many processed foods. That takes away many fast-food options, snacks and cereals out of boxes, and most sugary treats. Yes, these foods have gluten, but they also have tons of unnecessary carbohydrates, sugars, and fats that make the desire to have them so tasty. High sugar and carbohydrate diets do typically cause weight gain and fatigue and we can all attest to not feeling our best went we aren’t exactly eating healthy.
From a fitness standpoint, clean eating practically eliminates gluten in and of itself. Besides some protein bars or snacks and possible powders, clean foods aren’t processed, and that takes care of plenty of gluten choices. Furthermore, we do want to have our gut working optimally for us for performance purposes. Having malabsorption or digestive problems can hinder training and performance. Imagine trying to powerlift or compete on stage at a bodybuilding show when your stomach is inflamed and even worse if you both feel and look bloated? Skip the gluten if that’s the case.
There are so many gluten-free products available, and many restaurants now include options. It’s always important to ask if gluten is included despite what the menu might say. Reading labels and nutrition panels becomes a regular task. For a label to meet gluten free requirements, the food cannot contain more than 20 parts per million gluten. Otherwise, below this amount is considered the safe threshold of gluten someone can have (Celiac Disease Foundation, 2022). Making your own food is probably the safest and eating fruits, vegetables, and lean meats is the right way to go. Furthermore, gluten free doesn’t mean calorie or fat free, so it doesn’t mean portions don’t matter anymore. Our intake and expenditure remain, but less processed foods are probably the best when it outcome to having celiac disease and learning to eat nutritionally packed choices.