How to recognise gluten intolerance and simple things you can do about it
Dr. Helen Smith shares her tips and advice for anyone wondering if they might have a gluten related health problem or who simply wishes to avoid gluten in their diet.
What is gluten?
Gluten is the protein found in some grains like wheat, oats, barley and rye.
What is the difference between coeliac disease and gluten intolerance?
It can create problems in the body like gut upsets and inflammation, poor absorption of nutrients and aching joints or fluid retention. The gluten protein basically punches holes in the gut and gets inside and creates inflammation in your tissues of your body and some organs.
At its most severe, when the gut has actually been destroyed or flattened due to damage from gluten we call it ‘coeliac disease’ and when you look inside the small bowel of someone with coeliac disease you see flat ‘villi’ (little fingerlike protrusions that help absorb the food) and you see poor absorption of iron, B vitamins and minerals on the blood tests.
What is much more common is for a person to be ‘gluten intolerant’ and have problems with digesting gluten. Especially these days when we bake bread very fast and don’t give the gluten a chance to break down; also some wheat has been bred to be rich in gluten so the bread is more bouncy or glue like as a dough.
How do you you know when you should avoid gluten?
If you eat wheat and notice you get a sore abdomen, bloating, tired, aching, period pains (for females) or get foggy in your thinking you might like to try gluten free diets. Even arthritis and sinus sufferers sometimes benefit from gluten free and certainly children on the autistic spectrum often do better on gluten free diets.
Gluten acts like ‘morphine’ in the body. Morphine is that strong pain killer from poppy plants that is known as an “opiate” and works in the body to put you to sleep, dull pain and senses. Have you ever seen someone go to sleep after a big feed of wheat or sandwich or pasta? I hear a lot of reports from patients ‘I lost several kilos weight and fluid retention improved when I went gluten free’.
So what does it mean to be ‘gluten free’?
It means taking out wheat, barley, oats and rye. Some people find taking out wheat does the trick and they can still eat porridge etc and some find they need to take out all gluten even hidden sources of gluten like soy sauce, sauce mixes, processed foods, soups, anything with traces of wheat to really feel well.
It can take several months to really clean it out of your system and feel really well, but it is worth persisting if you have signs on your blood tests or symptoms of having a problem with gluten in your diet.
Foods for a gluten free diet?
All vegetables, all meats, all fish and shellfish, grains: buckwheat, rice, amaranth, millet and corn flour. Tapioca is okay. Tamari is a wheat free soy sauce. Soy is okay in the sense it does not contain gluten. Many products are now labelled ‘gluten free’ so look for this.
Most people say to me ‘gluten free bread is so boring or so expensive’, but if you look around you will see there is more and more on the market that is gluten free and more tasty.
Some of your gluten free favourites?
Venerdi brown rice bread or six grain bread gluten free, but there is a cost factor. Other options you will see are Gluten Free Pizza Bases by Venerdi, BakeHouse loaves. Countdown supermarkets have Macro range foods with gluten free choices. There are ginger nuts and afghans gluten free in New World and so on.
Some patients save costs by making their own with a bread maker and some patients are losing weight and staying off bread anyway so that is another approach you can try with the “paleo” or bread free simple diets with vegetables and proteins, nuts and seeds and some seasonal fruit, water and so on. There are also classes you can do on gluten free cooking so you can take some of the costs out of eating gluten free baking.
Dr. Helen Smith is a holistic medical doctor who has been working in medicine for over 20 years. You can contact her via her website here: http://www.aucklandholisticcentre.co.nz/ The last 10 years have been with a completely nutritional and holistic focus. Educated at the University of Western Australia Dr Helen has lived and worked in Auckland, New Zealand for over 17 years helping patients with an emphasis on natural options for their health needs.
We’d love to hear from you. Do you follow a gluten free diet? Have you tips for gluten free living that you’d like to share? What are some of your favourite gluten free foods?