What is gluten, anyway?

What is gluten, anyway?

Dear Kosterina Family,

I'm constantly trying to make sense of what I'm reading and learning in this nutritionally confusing world and lately I've had gluten on the mind. 

Over the past few years, becoming gluten-free has gone from a dietary restriction that was difficult to live with to a dietary choice that's widely accepted.  But let's start with the most simple question: What is gluten, anyway?

Basically, gluten is a family of proteins that are found in certain grains like wheat, barley, spelt, and rye. When these grains are mixed with water, the gluten proteins create a network of sticky dough, which gives it the ability to rise into bread. But, these days - gluten lurks not only in pasta and bread but in many different products, from soy sauce to even toothpaste.

Now, a very small percentage of people suffer from Celiac, an autoimmune disease where the tiniest amount of gluten can trigger a painful immune response in the small intestine. Essentially, even eating just a bite of a crouton can trigger bloating, nausea and other intestinal issues; if this isn't addressed it can lead to a host of long-term health problems ranging from seizures to osteoporosis. This can be tested through blood and other lab tests.

With that said, there's a growing number of people who experience gluten sensitivity - an issue that's less serious than Celiac disease, but painful nonetheless and can have long-term consequences if left unaddressed. Many people report stomach pain, brain fog, headaches and even joint pain. This is because gluten may cause inflammation in the gut, which spirals out to many other parts of the body.

So what's to blame? Why is gluten an issue all of a sudden? More information has been published in recent years that links modern farming practices to a rise in autoimmune issues and gluten sensitivity -- so it may be worth exploring how your body interacts with this protein family. It turns out that 80% of the population of adults and children have some sort of gluten sensitivity that can affect health -- even if they don't present with GI symptoms. 

So, while gluten allergies and/or Celiac disease are simple to identify via blood work, tests to determine if you are gluten sensitive are harder to come by. A good functional medicine doctor and or a very knowledgable nutritionist may be able to order you a Wheat Zoomer. But doctors also recommend simply keeping a food journal to track your reactions to gluten-filled foods (here's a handy list, since it sneaks in to many surprising products!).

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Peace, love & EVOO,