Should You Be Gluten-Free?

It turns out that 10-20% of the U.S. population is now sensitive to gluten. This is causing a rapid rise in people going gluten-free and feeling better as a result. But gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. And it’s also found in any products containing wheat, barely, and rye like bread, crackers, cookies, muffins, pancakes, and beer. And most people aren’t consuming raw wheat, barley, and rye in their whole grain form. They’re consuming these highly processed gluten-containing foods which we know without a doubt, are extremely unhealthy. So, by going gluten-free you’re likely reducing your intake of processed foods which can obviously make you feel better and healthier. But the more time you spend gluten-free, the more you learn that there are gluten-free cookies, gluten-free pancakes, and gluten-free beer. And as you go back to that more processed diet that’s now gluten-free, you’re probably worse off than when you started. So, is gluten the problem? Who do we know for a fact shouldn’t be consuming gluten? And if you think you’re sensitive to gluten, should you cut back or, plot twist… double down? Well, I have lots of great info today so let’s get into it!

Note: Most of this information is coming from leading gastroenterologist Dr. Will Bulsiewicz’s book Fiber Fueled. Awesome guy, terrific book.

Those Who Shouldn’t Consume Gluten

Let’s start off with about 2% of the population who shouldn’t be consuming gluten. That’s not a lot of people! So, here’s how that breaks down.

Celiac Disease (1% of Population)

Back in 1995, about .02% of the population had Celiac disease. That’s 1 out of every 5,000 people. But today that number has risen to around 1% which is 1 out of every 100 people. Like many diseases, this is likely the cause of unhealthy lifestyles and environments. Either way, those with Celiac disease should not be consuming gluten. So, how do you know if you have Celiac disease? Well, in such cases gluten will cause an immune response that damages your intestines which will show symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and/or weight loss. If you have these symptoms, you can get tested using an upper endoscopy with biopsies of the small intestine. You’ll have to run all this by your doctor but most likely you’ll want to consume 4-6 slices of wheat bread per day for 4 weeks before the test to ensure the diagnosis is clear. But testing for this disease is near 100% accurate so, if you do test positive for Celiac disease then you should be gluten-free.

Wheat Allergy (.5% of Population)

Next, is a condition that’s not necessarily related to gluten but is related to other proteins found within wheat. And that’s a wheat allergy. While it can be difficult to test for this allergy, the symptoms should be obvious. For example, if you get hives, swelling of the lips and throat, or have difficulty breathing after consuming wheat, then you probably have a wheat allergy. Most likely you developed this as a child and you’re aware of the condition. Those with a wheat allergy should not eat wheat but could eat barley and rye.

Gluten Sensitivity with Extraintestinal Symptoms (.5% of Population)

The last group of people who shouldn’t consume gluten are those with a gluten sensitivity that cause extraintestinal symptoms. These are symptoms that occur outside the intestinal tract like joint pain, muscle pain, limb numbness, altered mental state, loss of muscle control, or rashes. If you develop these symptoms after consuming gluten, it’s best to be gluten-free. But this is also only a small portion of the population equating to about 1 in every 200 people.

What To Eat Instead

To summarize, if you have Celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or a gluten sensitivity with extraintestinal symptoms then you should be gluten-free. But just because you’re gluten-free, doesn’t mean you should avoid whole grains entirely as whole grain consumption is strongly linked to positive health outcomes like weight loss, lowered cholesterol, and cardiovascular health. So, load up on other healthy whole grains like quinoa, oats, sorghum, millet, and buckwheat. And personally, millet is my favorite grain! It tastes absolutely phenomenal and can be used so versatilely in many dishes. I love it! And the last thing I’ll mention is that testing your sensitivity to gluten yearly may be beneficial too as some people can outgrow these symptoms. So, just something to keep in mind.

Those Who Should Consume Gluten

Next, let’s cover the remaining 98% of the population that should be consuming gluten!

Everyone Else (83% of Population)

Wheat, barley, and rye are health promoting foods! They increase gut bacteria diversity and are an abundant source of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. In fact, numerous studies have shown that going gluten-free for the general population not only has no health benefits, but has health detriments. For this reason, I recommend keeping gluten in your diet for the vast majority of people when consumed in it’s organic whole food form.

Gluten Sensitivity with Digestive Symptoms (15% of Population)

But, even if you don’t have Celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or a gluten sensitivity with extraintestinal symptoms, you may have a gluten sensitivity with other symptoms. For example, many people have trouble digesting gluten which causes digestive problems like bloating, gas, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or constipation. And if you remove gluten from your diet, these issues will go away, and you’ll feel better. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be consuming gluten. That just means your gut isn’t well equipped to digest gluten. As I just mentioned, wheat, barley, and rye are healthy foods and should be consumed by the general population. So, instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, it’s best to use Joe Biden’s build back better mantra for our gut. Because once we have a robust gut, we should be able to chew through gluten like Trump chewed through cabinet members.

How To Sensitize Yourself to Gluten

So how can those 15% of people with gluten sensitivities in their digestive track build back a healthier more robust gut? Well plant scientist Bob Quinn has four suggestions. And while each of these suggestions are helpful on their own, combining all four will yield optimal results.

  • 1. Eat Ancient Heirloom Grains: These grains are often more nutrient dense than modern wheat, barely, or rye plus studies have shown positive benefits on the entire digestive tract. Examples of these grains include farro, spelt, and kamut.
  • 2. Go Organic: This reduces your exposure to chemical residues which can trigger digestive symptoms. Eating organic is an all-around good idea even without a gluten sensitivity though.
  • 3. Eat Whole Grains: Eating grains in their whole form instead of enriched or processed grains will help too. This will help build back stronger and more diverse gut bacteria which will help with digestion.
  • 4. Try Sourdough Bread: Sourdough bread takes around six times longer to make than regular bread and during that time the fermentation process destroys over 90% of the gluten. This will make it easier for you to digest and will ease the transition back to gluten containing foods.

Final Thoughts

Foods containing gluten like wheat, barley, and rye are health promoting foods that the general population should be consuming. Their nutrient packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants that lead to a healthier lifestyle. But if you have Celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or a gluten sensitivity with extraintestinal symptoms, then gluten shouldn’t be on your menu. Now if you have a gluten sensitivity with digestive symptoms only, then you should focus on building a robust gluten digesting gut machine by eating organic, whole ancient grains with a side of sourdough bread. And no matter your situation, we should all be avoiding highly processed foods that commonly contain gluten like cookies, cakes, and muffins. This will all lead to a healthier and happier life.

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Hey, I am Brandon Zerbe

Welcome to myHealthSciences! My goal has always been to increase quality-of-life with healthy habits that are sustainable, efficient, and effective. I do this by covering topics like Fitness, Nutrition, Sleep, Cognition, Finance and Minimalism. You can read more about me here.


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