So, what is gluten? Gluten is a protein that is typically found in many grains. It is used to enhance the flavor and consistency of many foods. It is also used as a thickener, which is why you’ll find it in many soups and condiments like ketchup and soy sauce.
What is a gluten intolerance? This term usually refers to two types of people – those with a celiac disease and those with a gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease produces a dangerous immune response and impacts ~1% of the US population. Symptoms include chronic diarrhea, fatigue and weight loss. Overtime damage occurs to the small intestine, which impacts the absorption of many vitamins and minerals. Those with celiac disease must maintain a 100% gluten free diet and can even be impacted if their food is cooked in the same vicinity as that containing gluten.
Those with a gluten sensitivity tend to have less severe symptoms, which can make it even harder to diagnose. It is estimated that 5%-10% of Americans have a sensitivity to gluten. The symptoms that I see most frequently in my practice are acid reflux, hives, gas/bloating and severe fatigue.
How do I know if I have a gluten sensitivity? If you think that you do have a gluten sensitivity, I suggest removing gluten from your diet for 30 days and seeing how you feel. This doesn’t mean that you need to go to the store a spend a lot of money on specialized gluten free products! Instead make some simple substitutions. Choose risotto over pasta, corn tortilla over flour and tamari over soy sauce. For a complete list of foods to avoid check out the Mayo Clinic’s website. Most restaurants have a gluten free menu so don’t hesitate to ask your server to alter the ingredients in your meal.
If you find that your symptoms alleviate after a month you may want to explore some of the many gluten free products that are hitting the shelves. If not, then you are most likely one of the 90% of American’s that are not impacted by gluten. Congratulations and go have a sandwich!
Tara Coleman is a Clinical Nutritionist and Salada Tea Spokesperson living in San Diego, CA. She blogs twice a month with “Tara’s Friday Bite.” Leave your comments with ideas for future topics or email Tara directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.