Since receiving my certification as a Natural Foods Chef in August I have a lot of people asking me why everything is gluten-free all of a sudden and should they be eating gluten-free themselves.
This isn't so easy or straightforward a question to answer, but I'll do my best.
First we need to know what gluten is. Gluten is a particular protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Some say oats as well, but that's not so. Oats do not contain gluten, but they are often processed on the same machines that process wheat, barley, and rye so they are contaminated with gluten particles. It is possible to buy certified gluten-free oats if necessary.
There have always been people who cannot break down gluten because of a genetic inability. Unfortunately for these people there was little knowledge of gluten and its associated problems until the past perhaps 5-10 years. Alessio Fasano, an Italian doctor who now works as the director of the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine was one of the first doctor's to link GI symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and nausea with Celiac disease and/or gluten sensitivity or intolerance.
Today, there are blood tests that can help determine if a patient has Celiac disease, which is an actual autoimmune disorder that causes serious damage to the small intestine when gluten is eaten. For the 1% of the U.S. population that actually has Celiac disease the treatment is relatively simple: do not eat gluten. I say, relatively, because it seems that gluten is found in more than just bread and pasta. It is also found in soy sauce, BBQ sauce, and the like. For a person who has been diagnosed with Celiac disease, it is imperative that they have a serious discussion with their doctor about what this means to them and their life. They also will most likely need to find a well qualified nutritionist who will properly educate them on how to identify foods that contain gluten. For a person with Celiac disease, eating gluten is like eating a food that is slowly killing off a part of your small intestine. This is a seriuos diagnosis that needs to be taken seriously.
For the 6% to7% of Americans, like me, who are found not to have Celiac disease but, instead, are gluten sensitive or intolerant the problem is one more of not feeling well than doing serious damage to our GI tract. That said, there is growing evidence that many people with IBD - inflammatory bowel disease, are tending to be gluten sensitive because in addition to our Crohn's disease or Colitis we also may have leaky gut. Leaky gut is when the large intesting begins to look more like a fish net than a well-woven piece of fabric. These little holes that are found in the gut allow food that we eat to leak out of the gut and into the bloodstream and this is what can cause the feelings of gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. Again, the treatment for those who are found to be gluten sensitive or intolerant is the same: don't eat foods containing gluten.