Many people today are discovering that exposure to gluten makes them sick. Gluten, a protein found in many grains (wheat, semolina, barley, rye, spelt, and kamut), can cause serious health issues for some people. Consuming gluten can be life-threatening to anyone with celiac disease. It can also be quite damaging to anyone with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) a condition that often goes undiagnosed and is estimated to occur in 20 out of every 100 people.

For those affected, gluten causes inflammation, leaky gut, malabsorption of vitamins and minerals, autoimmune reactions, and chronic health conditions. Inflammation is start of many of our chronic illnesses.

The prevalence of both celiac disease and NCGS has increased significantly over the past 50 years. One theory on the cause is that today’s wheat has been changed or “hybridized.” This means scientists have chosen particular strains of the plant, due to their desirable characteristics, and bred them to reinforce those characteristics. The wheat grown today is shorter, grows faster, and is more bug, heat, and drought resistant than wheat of the past. Some believe today’s wheat also contains much more gluten than previously. It has not, however, been genetically modified as some people may erroneously believe, as its genes have not been altered through gene splicing. In addition to the hybridized wheat, the amount and frequency of gluten consumption has increased dramatically because it is commonly used in so many foods in our diet.

Are you curious to find out if gluten is affecting you negatively? To discover if gluten is causing you health issues, eliminate eating it for a month and then reintroduce it into your diet. You will need to remove gluten 100 percent (not even one bite!) for at least four weeks and monitor your symptoms — before gluten removal and again after reintroduction. A very helpful tracking form called the Medical Symptoms Questionnaire can be found by performing a quick search on the Internet and can help you track changes in your symptoms.

Avoid all of the following:

Simple food sources of gluten include anything with any form of wheat, barley and rye:

  • Bread
  • Crackers
  • Pancakes
  • Cookies
  • Pretzels
  • Pasta
  • Cereal
  • Cake and pie
  • Waffles
  • Soy sauce
  • Cream soups
  • Sauces thickened with wheat
  • Muffins
  • Couscous
  • Ancient grains such as spelt, kamut, and triticale
  • Oats (due to possible cross contamination)
  • All makeup, body and skin care products listing wheat on the label

Other less obvious sources may include:

  • Artificial color
  • Baking powder
  • Caramel color/flavoring
  • Citric acid (if fermented from wheat)
  • Coloring
  • Corn chips
  • Dextrins
  • Diglycerides
  • Emulsifier
  • Fat replacers
  • Flavorings
  • Food starch
  • Glucose syrup
  • Glycerides
  • Maltodextrin
  • Play-Doh and paints
  • Modified food starch
  • Natural flavors
  • Stabilizers
  • Starch
  • Wheat starch
  • Medications, supplements and herbal formulas
  • Stamps and envelopes
  • Luncheon meats, crab and vegan substitutes
  • Alcohol
  • Mashed potatoes (if wheat is used as a thickener)
  • Candy

When in doubt, go without! You will not miss any important nutrients by avoiding gluten. After reading all the foods that contain gluten, you may ask, “What can I eat?”

There are many real, wholesome foods that are naturally gluten-free such as:

  • All vegetables
  • All fruits
  • All nuts
  • Nut butters
  • Seeds
  • Gluten-free grains such as rice, quinoa, corn, millet, amaranth, tapioca and teff
  • Legumes
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Lean meats
  • Eggs
  • Refined oils

It may be tempting to substitute other processed foods that are gluten-free for the foods you are avoiding. Be aware there are many unhealthy gluten-free foods that contain large amounts of sugar and other high glycemic ingredients. Just because it is gluten-free does not mean it’s healthy.

This is a brief introduction to following a gluten-free diet and lifestyle. Wise Woman Wellness offers many resources for those who want to live a gluten-free lifestyle. If you discover you feel better when you avoid gluten, you may wish to make this a permanent choice. Please check with your provider regarding a confirmed diagnosis that may include an intestinal biopsy and blood tests. There are several new lab tests available today from companies such as Cell Science Systems called the Gut Health Profile and Cyrex Laboratory (Array 2, 3 and possibly 5) to help get a confirmed diagnosis related to your gluten-related disorder. Wise Woman Wellness also provides ALCAT Testing for a more in-depth look at food sensitivities.

It is important that no matter what diet you follow, you eat healthy, well-balanced meals and snacks, and avoid the foods that cause sensitivity or immune system reactions. Finding this out may mean the difference between feeling great every day and developing lifelong health complications.