With everything from bread to soy sauce to face wash now sold in gluten-free formulations, it seems that the vilification of gluten has reached critical mass. With medical experts asserting that the incidence of celiac disease, the autoimmune disease rendering gluten toxic to the affected individual, remains at less than 1%, who are all these other people jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon?
Although the medical research remains somewhat inconclusive, there is growing curiosity about the existence and prevalence of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) — a condition in which the affected individual doesn’t possess the biomarkers characteristic of a celiac diagnosis, but still experiences physical symptoms — ranging from upset stomach to fatigue to brain fog — in the presence of a high-gluten diet. A recent study out of Columbia University seems to validate the existence of gluten sensitivity, detecting markers for irritated and compromised intestinal walls that showed a “significant change towards normalization” after switching to a gluten-free diet.
Think that might be you? Here are five reasons to consider trying a reduced gluten diet.
1. The million dollar word: inflammation. Certain molecules that occur naturally in wheat have been shown to cause some amount of gut inflammation, even in the 99% of the population that doesn’t suffer from celiac disease. Inflammation in the gut can lead to poor absorption of nutrients, upset stomach, and reduced immune function — all things we’d prefer to take a pass on.
2. It’s part of the process. One of the main sources of gluten in today’s diet is processed foods like breads, cookies, pastas, pastries, and sweets. If you can avoid the temptation to simply replace these foods with their more expensive gluten-free substitutes (we see you, Whole Foods), cutting down on your gluten intake will have the secondary benefit of cutting down on your consumption of processed foods altogether, many of which are high in other dietary villains like added sugar and trans fats.
3. I can see clearly now, the fog is gone. If you have a job and have been at that job around 3pm, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with “brain fog.” Turns out, it’s a real thing. Researchers studied the condition, marked by “difficulty concentrating, problems with attentiveness, lapses in short-term memory, word-finding difficulties, temporary loss in mental acuity and creativity, and confusion or disorientation” in patients with celiac disease and found that “cognitive performance improve[d] with adherence to the gluten-free diet…”
4. Does this gluten make me look fat? Linking gluten to weight gain is a leap that lacks sufficient proof, but the connection between our microbiome and our ability to lose weight is the latest twist in our ongoing saga with dieting. Certain gut bacteria, for example, suppress the enzyme lipoprotein lipase, which in turn leads to an increase in fat storage.
5. Just change it up. Wheat has become a cornerstone of the American diet, and there’s a good chance you depend heavily on it at nearly every meal of the day. Bagels for breakfast, a sandwich at lunch, pasta for dinner, and maybe a cookie for good measure… sound familiar? Eliminating or reducing your gluten intake just may force you to get out of your usual food routine, which can in turn help you make some new discoveries. Scrambled eggs with a corn tortilla, a quinoa pilaf salad, and a bean and rice burrito bowl, for example. Go crazy.
Above all else, remember to listen to your body. If reducing your gluten intake helps lift the fog or ease lingering stomach upset, who cares what the research says? If a big ol’ plate of your mom’s lasagna is the only way that Sunday feels right, and your body agrees, bon appetit!