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What is gluten and why does it matter?

by Alexus Jordan

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Recently, I’ve gone gluten-free. Prior to this lifestyle change, I didn’t really understand what gluten was, why it was a big deal, and what gluten can do if you are intolerant. To me, gluten-free diets were always associated with plant-based diets, cleansing, and dieting fads. I didn’t put a lot of stock into gluten allergies or intolerances, mostly due to a lack of knowledge. I’m not a doctor, but if you're as lost as I was as to what gluten is and why it matters, I’m here to help break it down for you.

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat. Gluten helps food maintain its shape, and is responsible for the chewy texture that’s common to breads and baked goods. Even though it’s found in wheat, gluten can be found in a TON of unexpected places — including soy sauce, some alcohol, even medications and supplements. 

It seems like gluten is everywhere! Luckily, you can still have a pretty fulfilling diet whilst being gluten-free. Everything from potatoes to quinoa, rice, and soy are gluten-free grain options. However, it can be tricky; this morning I noticed that even my beef jerky contained traces of wheat. 

However, not everyone who is gluten-free has celiac disease. Celiac disease is hereditary and is actually an autoimmune condition. When people with celiac disease ingest gluten, their body reacts with an immune response that attacks the small intestine. However, when people with gluten sensitivities or intolerances ingest gluten, their body has a stress response that does not involve the immune system. 

Symptoms of celiac disease include fatigue, seizures or migraines, missed periods, depression or anxiety and even infertility. Although adults are less likely to experience digestive symptoms, digestive symptoms can include bloating and pain, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation. Gluten intolerance presents incredibly similar symptoms. 

Going gluten-free is not just a trend or a fad, and there are serious health repercussions if you ingest gluten when sensitive or intolerant. I was having daily headaches for no reason, and severe abdominal pain even when I hadn’t ingested any dairy (I'm also lactose intolerant). Since going gluten-free, my headaches have been going away and I’ve been feeling a lot better. 

If you’ve been struggling with some unexplainable symptoms, try going gluten-free and see what happens!