Understanding gluten intolerance is important. And it is a very popular subject right now. If you have gluten intolerance and are consuming foods that contain it, you are almost certainly going to suffer some kind of problem with your health. Understanding gluten intolerance will help you manage your diet and health more effectively.

Understanding gluten intolerance

Gluten is a type of protein found in many grains. It is also used in just about every type of processed food you can think of. Gluten is what makes pizza dough stretchy, and stops sauces from curdling. If you’re eating refined or processed foods, then you’re almost certainly eating gluten.


Major grains that contain gluten.

– Wheat
– Rye
– Barley
– Spelt
– Triticale
– Semolina
– Pumpernickel
– Farro
– Kamut

Understanding Gluten Intolerance - white flour and raw eggs

Gluten free grains

– All varieties of rice
– Buckwheat
– Amaranth
– Corn
– Millet
– Hominy
– Teff

gluten free grains - corn, oats, amarand, dark rice

Understanding gluten intolerance. Can gluten harm me?

That depends. Understanding gluten intolerance is understanding that it affects people differently. Some people have the ability to tolerate gluten, others do not. One thing is for sure and that is that it’d certainly worth your while to get tested. In the US and the UK, where consumption of grains is very high, it’s been estimated that approximately 20% of people could be gluten intolerant. One study in the US put the figure as high as 35% and that did not include patients with celiac disease.

I’ve heard of celiac disease. Is it the same as gluten intolerance?

No, but they are related. Celiac disease is an auto-immune condition that affects various bodily systems. It’s main target is the digestive tract. Basically, people who suffer from celiac disease will cause damage to their intestines if they consume gluten containing foods, and may eventually suffer from an inability to absorb vital nutrients.

What happens if I’m intolerant and eat gluten foods?

In this case it will initiate an immune response from your body. The immune system will see the gluten as antigens (foreign invaders) and release antibodies in a bid to destroy them. If these antibodies become overwhelmed however, inflammation will result. This inflammation can cause digestive disruption including constipation, diarrhoea and bloating. In the longer term intestinal scarring and malabsorption (inability to absorb nutrients properly or fully) can occur.

If damage is severe enough then damage to the intestinal wall may allow some antigens to break through the intestinal barrier and enter the bloodstream. This is bad news as the immune system will then be forced to release more antibodies to fight these invaders. This can lead to symptoms that we do not automatically relate to gluten sensitivity. Other symptoms caused by gluten intolerance include:

– Joint aching
– Chronic fatigue
– Headaches
– Infertility, problems with menstrual cycle
– Rashes
– Malabsorption and nutrient deficiencies
– Unexplained weight loss or gain

girl holding a piece of toast bread, cut into a sad face to illustrate  the effects of gluten intorlerance

What can I do if I suspect that I suffer gluten intolerance?

Firstly, you should see your doctor to decide if you should get tested. Hopefully they can help you but if not then private companies can provide you with a reliable home test kit. Once you complete the test at home you send the kit back to them and they will send you the results. There is also an excellent gluten resource with an available self test here www.glutenfreesociety.org.

A further option is a gluten free diet where you would exclude all gluten containing foods for at least 30 days (60 is better) to see if any of your digestive/health symptoms improve. At some point, however, you should get a proper test done to establish gluten intolerance for certain.

mid section view of a woman cutting vegetables

Long-term damage

Gluten intolerance can result in some pretty nasty symptoms and potential long term damage. Therefore it’s always worthwhile for you to get checked. If you are intolerant then look at it in a positive way. Now you know you can avoid gluten in your diet and your health will improve. There are plenty of foods you can still enjoy and many delicious gluten free recipes available. Happy eating!


(image credit: lafitness, realfood, supermarketnews, lytnyc, lunar.thegamez)

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