For some people to Take the Fight out of Food, the theme of this year’s Dietitians of Canada Nutrition Month, means solving digestive woes. As I mentioned in my last post, there are steps to take when it comes to ending food battles. These include:
1. Spot the problem.
Define what’s causing your fight with food first.
2. Get the facts
Use facts from credible sources to decide what needs to be done to solve the problem.
3. Seek support.
The first step – to spot the problem – is indeed a sensible way to go but unfortunately nowadays many are mistaken in what they perceive to be the issue. .
When it comes to spotting the problem, countless individuals are labelling gluten as the culprit. Now for some, gluten may indeed be causing digestive woes along with a host of other ills. For the 1% of the population who have celiac disease, gluten can cause a whole range of problems-both short term and in the long run.
For those with this autoimmune disease, eating gluten doesn’t just lead to just tummy troubles. There can be serious health problems from head to toe. From what some call brain fog-and inability to think straight -to skin problems, digestive difficulties, malnutrition due to poor nutrient absorption, bone thinning and more. For these individuals, eating gluten can certainly take its toll.
Then there are those-about 5% of the population-who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. They also suffer with various symptoms, not just gastrointestinal ones.
Being gluten-free has become very trendy as celebs tout the diet as a weight loss strategy. It’s not the gluten, though, that’s responsible for shedding weight. It was more just how limited the dietary regime was. But these days, the gluten-free market has exploded and there’s as much gluten-free junk food as there is regular.
For those who suspect gluten as a dietary offender in their digestive distress, while cutting out gluten and diagnosing the problem yourself might seem like a smart idea, it is anything but. It’s, in fact, the last thing you should do if you suspect that gluten is making you sick.
Let me explain.
Even minute amounts that might be found on food due to cross- contamination such a dish being prepared in a pan where a food containing gluten was cooked previously, can cause problems for someone with celiac disease. In fact, these tiny amounts of gluten overtime for an individual with celiac disease can actually boost the risk for certain cancers.
This is why a person who suspects gluten is making them unwell should not cut it out before being tested for celiac disease. The initial testing involves measuring certain antibodies produced when someone with celiac disease eats gluten. So if a person cuts out gluten and then goes for a test, they will not produce the antibodies and subsequently will get a false negative test result. Having a biopsy to make the diagnosis is also necessary but again, without gluten being eaten, the biopsy would be negative because there would be no damage observed due to the effect of gluten.
Now you may wonder why this is such a big deal. I can’t tell you the number of people that have told me they just cut out gluten and felt so much better so they didn’t need testing. But the same people when they don’t have a definitive diagnosis are less likely to be as vigilant about gluten as they should be. Simply put, if you have symptoms, are gluten-free and feel better, will you read every single label of each and every food you eat? Will you be very strict everywhere you go?
Human nature says no.
I see clients who have gone gluten-free but in extreme circumstances, such as being starving and having no other food around, will stray from the gluten-free diet. Or maybe they’re tempted by a favourite food which is suddenly presented. Or what about going to dinner at a friends and you forgot to inform them? But if they have a diagnosis, then they tend to be vigilant 100% of the time. And that’s what the treatment is for celiac disease. That’s it – a gluten-free diet.
For those who have non-celiac gluten intolerance, minute amounts might be fine and have no long-term consequences.
All too frequently, I hear people say that they’ll just try a gluten-free diet and see how they feel. But if they feel better, going back to gluten to get a definitive diagnosis can be absolutely dreadful. After having been on a gluten-free diet, in order to get reliable test results, it involves eating gluten again, possibly plenty of it for a somewhat extended time.
According to dietitian Shelley Case, the undisputed expert in gluten-free diets, the time and amount of gluten required to be consumed to get accurate testing after going gluten-free varies. She states in her recently released updated book, Gluten Free: The Definitive Resource Guide, that some experts recommend between two and five slices of bread for at least 2 to 4 weeks or even longer before the blood test will show antibodies and for there to be evidence of intestinal damage. (A post on Shelley’s incredible resource is coming up in a few weeks. In the meantime, it’s available at Indigo, Amazon.com as well as on her website.)
For someone who feels better after eliminating gluten, eating enough gluten for accurate testing can be a daunting task and one that many people simply can’t follow through on.
So before you cut gluten out, take step number 2 and get the facts from credible sources to decide what needs to be done to solve the problem.
For more on gluten, check out my post: Gluten-free diets: separating fact from fiction