Debunking Myths About Gluten

This is not the first time I have posted about gluten, but nevertheless, it is a topic and interest of mine that I am very passionate about.  Had I not gone through several health issues last year and in the course of my life, I'm not sure I would have become as interested and invested in the facts.  Fortunately, I did, and I would love to spend some time to debunk some myths about gluten with you!

I recently finished reading, Gluten Freedom by Dr. Fasano.  Probably my favorite more medically-minded, research-based book on the topic so far. Every book I read about it I learn something new!  So much interesting information and research here.  But I'll start small by cracking down on just a few myths about gluten:

Myth # 1: Gluten Free is just a Fad diet.  I hear this all the time.  What this reflects to me is someone who is not very informed on gluten and its components. Not a bad thing, just an opportunity to learn.  First of all, nobody is able to completely digest gluten.  Studies show that gluten proteins are not totally metabolized by the intestines.  While all the proteins we ingest can be completely dismantled, there is an exception: the protein is gluten and more specifically its components, gliadins and glutenins.  The presence of these undigested gluten peptides in the upper small intestine is perceived by our gut immune surveillance system as a potential enemy, and its interpreted as a component of a possible dangerous bacteria.  This response is elicited by everyone, not just people with gluten-related disorders.  So wouldn't it make sense that everyone should follow or attempt as best as possible to engage in a gluten-free diet?  The evidence suggests it.

Myth #2: Our ancestors ate gluten and never had a problem, so why can't I? First of all, this ancient and complex protein developed alongside humans over throughout thousands of years.  For the majority of our human evolution, we ate gluten-free diets up until 10,000 years ago when the agricultural revolution was born.  As early as 2000 years ago, cases of celiac disease are reported.  As cultures became exposed to wheat who had previously based their diet on non-gluten ingredients like meat, milk, vegetables and fruits, gluten sensitivity and celiac disease developed.  In fact, gluten and its close relatives secalin and hordein from rye and barley are the only proteins our bodies cannot digest.  Interestingly, staple cereals and grains in other cultures, such as millet and rice, are mostly gluten-free, and the genes related to celiac diseases in those cultures are much less than in Western countries.  This explains why China, a country's diet that prior to introduction to Western foods largely consisted on rice, has a much lower incidence of celiac and gluten sensitivity.

Myth #3: If I don't have any negative symptoms, why should I stop eating gluten?  Most people assume that if they have celiac or gluten sensitivity, then they would just be experiencing abdominal pain and symptoms.  Unfortunately, gluten is not that kind.  Keep in mind as well that the small intestine is 18 to 23 feet long, and it can easily evade clinical symptoms.  While abdominal symptoms present in 70% of patients, this number is followed by eczema (40%) and/or rash, migraine/headaches (35%), "foggy mind" (34%), chronic fatigue (33%), diarrhea (33%), depression (22%), anemia (20%), tingling of fingertips (20%), and joint pain (11%).  A person can have one or a multitude of these symptoms.  Also worth mentioning is how gluten affects the reproductive systems of both women and men.  Studies have found that couples with unexplained infertility have a higher rate of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity than the general population.  This is no small percentage; it has been found that the population in America affected by gluten sensitivity is 6%; that's at least 20 million people!  The verdict is still out whether gluten sensitivity has a genetic component, though this has already been proven for those with celiac disease.

Interested in genetic testing?  Fortunately, this is a lot more accessible now than in previous years.  Testing for HLA-DQ (serotyping system that is from your immune system) is now much more affordable, and the ability to rule out celiac disease by HLA-DQ testing is impressive and the proportion of false negatives is extremely small.  So HLA testing is useful to rule out celiac disease but not to confirm diagnosis.

How complex is wheat? Well, each human has 25,000 genes, while wheat has five times as many.  Wowsers!! It's hard to know where to start, what to avoid, and what to eat when you engage in the gluten-free journey.  However, I can promise you it is a very rewarding and health-enriching journey

Things to avoid (Grains that contain gluten): wheat (this includes spelt, seitan, couscous, einkorn, emmer, kamut, and durum), barely, barley malt, rye, triticale

Things that are questionable and could vary person to person: imitation bacon, imitation seafood, marinades, soups, candy, seasonings, salad dressings, sauces and gravies, low-fat foods, packaged foods (ex. flavored potato and rice mixes), herbal supplements, vitamins, prescription/over-the-counter meds

Gluten-free grains, flours, seeds, and starches: amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat, cassava, corn, flaxseed, nut flours, millet, montina, gluten-free oats, quinoa, rice, sago, sorghum, tapioca, teff and wild rice

Keep in mind that just because an item is labeled "gluten-free" does not necessarily mean it is completely gluten free.  This is extremely important for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.  The FDA allows a product to be labeled "gluten-free" as long as it contains less than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten, as research shows that consuming products containing up to 10 mg (approximately 1/8 tsp of flour) of gluten per day is safe for most people with celiac disease.

Much more research and information is out there, but I hope this myth-debunking provides a good place to start.  Great literature resources I have found with sound and evidence-based research on gluten include:

Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis
Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter
Gluten Freedom by Dr. Alessio Fasano
The Autoimmune Solution by Dr. Amy Myers
The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne

Great blogs to follow include: The Paleo Mom, Against All Grain, Elana's Pantry, Gluten-Free Goddess, Gluten-Free Girl, and Gluten-Free Mommy...just to name a few!  Hope this helps in the beginning of your gluten-free journey or just to learn more about gluten and gluten-free! <3

Pictured are a couple gluten free grain/baking items from my pantry.  Bob's Red Mill is my favorite brand with the most MUST try their gluten free pizza crust ;o)




  1. I'm not sure if my last comment went through... so I'm trying again. Sorry if this posts twice. I love your recipes! And I agree with you about gluten. I have tried to go largely gluten-free and organic myself, but I come up against one barrier: the crazy expense of groceries. Do you have any recommendations for places to shop that won't break the bank when you're buying healthy foods, or just any recommendations for how to keep expenses lower in general? We don't have a Trader Joe's where I am. I didn't know if there were online deals or anything.

  2. got this comment jyirinec!! Yes, your right about groceries- they definitely can be more expensive!! As I'm sure you do, I just try to see health as an investment, so I'm ok spending a little more on my groceries in order to know I'm putting great food and nutrients into my body! I find that I get a lot of things off amazon and local farmers markets when Whole Foods is not giving me any good deals. Other web sites that I don't as frequently use, but I have a lot of friends who use, include Vitacost, Swanson, and Tropical Traditions. They offer great discounts in buying in bulk!

    Reading the book beautiful babies was helpful in highlighting the most important items to buy organic, and how to proportion things. We find that since we buy such high quality meat, that we don't eat large portions of it so that we can make it last longer. Rather, we eat more of the veggies! Keep in mind the clean 15 and dirty dozen, which I talked about in a previous post. The clean 15 I RARELY buy organic to help save money there. Hope this helps!


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