Gluten Galore: Are We Eating Too Much Wheat?

Did you know that celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to the gluten found in wheat, barley, and rye, affects more than three million Americans? Surprisingly, this number has quadrupled in the last 50 years, leaving researchers perplexed when trying to explain the increase.

One possible explanation for this sharp rise in celiac disease might be our ever-growing love for consuming gluten-containing foods. The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry highlights that, despite the fact that the gluten content in various forms of wheat has remained relatively unchanged since the 1920s, the average American consumes an astonishing 15 pounds of gluten a year. This signifies a 25% increase since the 1970s!

The Role of Vital Gluten

A key factor contributing to this increased gluten consumption is the use of an additive called “vital gluten.” Researcher Donald D. Kasarda revealed that the amount of vital gluten added to our foods has tripled since the 1970s. This particular additive is manufactured from wheat flour and is essentially pure gluten. It is commonly added to various food products to enhance their texture and improve their binding properties, which, in turn, can lead to a more enjoyable eating experience.

Being aware of this growing trend for incorporating vital gluten into products is essential, as celiac disease can trigger your immune system to attack and destroy not only your intestinal tract, but also your nerves, brain tissue, and other parts of the body.

Understanding Celiac Disease

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who experiences issues when consuming gluten has celiac disease. However, it’s important to understand the symptoms of this autoimmune disorder to decipher whether you or a loved one might be affected.

Some common symptoms of celiac disease include:

  • Abdominal bloating and pain
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

If you suspect that you or a loved one may have celiac disease, it’s crucial to consult a medical professional for a proper diagnosis. To obtain an accurate diagnosis, a physician may conduct various tests, such as a blood test to check for certain antibodies or an intestinal biopsy to determine any possible damage to the small intestine.

Gluten Sensitivity: Beyond Celiac Disease

It’s worth mentioning that some individuals may experience reactions to gluten without having celiac disease. This is referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and can present similar symptoms to celiac disease, including abdominal pain, bloating, and fatigue.

A study published in the journal Digestive Diseases and Sciences found that NCGS affects approximately 0.5 to 13% of people. To determine if you have NCGS, your physician may perform tests to rule out celiac disease and wheat allergy. If both tests come back negative and symptoms persist, you could indeed have NCGS.

Tips for Reducing Gluten Consumption

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, have NCGS, or simply want to reduce your gluten intake, knowing which food items and ingredients to avoid is critical. Here are some practical tips to help you cut down your gluten consumption:

  1. Educate yourself on common gluten-containing foods. The main sources of gluten in our diets are wheat, barley, and rye. These are found in items such as bread, pasta, cereals, and beer.
  2. Consider gluten-free alternatives. Many gluten-free options are becoming increasingly available, with products such as gluten-free bread, flour, and pasta making it easier for people to eliminate or reduce gluten from their diets. Make sure to double-check packaging to ensure you’re purchasing a certified gluten-free product.
  3. Embrace naturally gluten-free foods. Foods such as fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and most nuts and seeds are naturally gluten-free – incorporate more of these into your meals for a healthy and balanced diet.
  4. Be mindful of cross-contamination. When cooking or dining out, ensure that you take necessary precautions – using separate cooking utensils, cutting boards, and toasters can help prevent gluten exposure.
  5. Read labels carefully. Gluten can be hidden in unsuspecting foods, such as sauces, seasoning mixes, and processed foods. Read ingredient lists diligently and be on the lookout for terms like vital gluten, wheat flour, and malt extract.

In conclusion, while the exact reason for the increase in celiac disease has not yet been determined, it’s clear that the average American consumes more gluten than ever before, likely due to the prevalence of vital gluten in our food supply. Being aware of your individual gluten sensitivity and taking proactive steps to reduce your intake can significantly improve your overall well-being.