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Gluten Free: Separating Fact from Fiction

Gluten Free: Separating Fact from Fiction

Gluten-free products are more readily available today than they have ever been.  The sheer prevalence of gluten-free products and ingredients has led many to believe that excluding gluten is something most people could benefit from.

In reality, this is not the case at all. 

For people living with celiac disease, the availability of millions of gluten-free products is an absolute godsend. No longer does excluding gluten entirely mean limiting yourself to just a handful of specialist items, with a tendency to be ludicrously overpriced.

If you have celiac disease and you consume gluten, it can have a catastrophic impact on your health and wellbeing. Defined as an “autoimmune disease characterised by chronic inflammation of the jejunum caused by exposure to gliadin, a vegetable protein found in some grains,” celiac disease cannot be cured, but can be managed with the total exclusion of gluten.

But what’s interesting is how millions have reached the conclusion that even if you don’t have celiac disease, going gluten-free could make a major difference to your lifestyle. One of several long standing myths we’ll be taking a look at, as we attempt to separate gluten-free fact from fiction, once and for all.

Gluten Intolerance is Rare - Fact or Fiction?

Estimates suggest that on a global basis, approximately one in every 100 people have celiac disease. However, the prevalence of gluten intolerance is significantly higher. Estimates vary from one research foundation to the next, but some experts believe that up to 50% of the entire global population could be gluten sensitive to some extent or another.

This is where much of the confusion lies, as people often fail to draw any real distinction between gluten intolerance and celiac disease. Gluten intolerance can be so mild it’s practically undetectable, or severe enough to cause major health problems. In all instances, individuals with a gluten intolerance that impacts their health and wellbeing could benefit from its exclusion - under the advisement of a qualified professional.

Gluten-Free Diets for Celiac Disease Are Temporary - Fact or Fiction?

Patients with celiac disease who exclude gluten from their diets entirely can completely eliminate the adverse effects of the illness. Unfortunately, this leads many people with a gluten intolerance into a false sense of security. They assume that once their symptoms have been brought under control, they can begin introducing gluten back into their diets once again.

Unfortunately, a strict and life-long gluten-free diet is often necessary for those with more serious sensitivities to gluten. Where a doctor or nutritionist recommends the exclusion of gluten, it is typically a permanent recommendation. Where gluten is reintroduced - even in relatively small quantities - it can cause the illness to flair up once again. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for gluten intolerance - it must simply be managed appropriately.

Symptom-Free Celiac Sufferers Can Safely Eat Gluten - Fact or Fiction?

If you are diagnosed with celiac disease, your doctor will most likely recommend a gluten-free diet. In some instances, people who are diagnosed with celiac disease do not experience any particularly negative side effects or symptoms when consuming gluten. They may therefore assume that while this is the case, they can safely consume gluten in moderation.

In reality, any professional recommendation to exclude gluten should be taken seriously and heeded to the letter. While comparatively rare, there are cases of celiac disease and gluten intolerance where the catastrophic damage being caused to the gut is more or less ‘silent’ in nature. This means that even though you are not experiencing any adverse side effects or symptoms, the gluten you consume could still be causing serious harm.

Again, always follow the advice of your doctor, following your diagnosis.

A Gluten-Free Diet is Healthier for Most People - Fact or Fiction?

Contrary to popular belief, this is not actually true. In fact, excluding gluten from your diet when it is not necessary to do so can actually be counterproductive. Unless you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, sensitivity to gluten or a similar disorder, it is inadvisable to switch to a gluten-free diet.

What matters is the quality and nutritional value of the foods you eat. If you believe that any aspect of your everyday diet is adversely affecting your health and wellbeing, it is important to consult with a doctor or nutritionist for further advice. Simply making the assumption that gluten is responsible is inadvisable - as is excluding gluten without first getting the go-ahead from an expert.

Going Gluten-Free Will Help You Lose Weight - Fact or Fiction?

This myth stems from the fact that when a lot of people make the decision to go gluten-free, they start making more sensible and informed dietary choices in general. In terms of calories, fat and sugar content, there is absolutely no difference whatsoever between regular foods and gluten-free foods. Those in the latter bracket can be just as fattening and unhealthy as their conventional counterparts.

Where people exclude gluten and it helps them lose weight, it technically has nothing to do with the presence or otherwise of gluten. Instead, it is often to do with the fact that they reduce or completely cut out the consumption of things like cakes, biscuits, pasta dishes, bread and other high-calorie foods they may have eaten excessive quantities of before. People who go gluten-free often increase their intake of fruits and vegetables, which could explain why many also lose weight.

Celiac Sufferers Can Still Consume Gluten in Moderation - Fact or Fiction?

Your doctor or nutritionist will advise you as to whether or not you need to exclude gluten from your diet in its entirety. If this is the case, complete exclusion is the only safe option for your health and wellbeing. Contrary to popular belief, consuming even tiny quantities of gluten as a celiac sufferer can cause serious damage to intestinal cells. Even if no immediate symptoms are noticeable, it could still be causing you harm without your knowledge.

Some patients with relatively mild gluten sensitivity can get away with consuming gluten in moderation, without it harming their bodies. Though again, this is something that will be advised by your doctor, as it differs significantly from one patient to the next. If your doctor or nutritionist tells you that you need to exclude gluten entirely, that’s exactly what you need to do - no exceptions.

All Cases of Celiac Disease Trigger the Same Symptoms - Fact or Fiction?

Most cases of coeliac disease are identifiable on the basis of several common signs and symptoms. Patients who contact doctors or nutritionists with a suspected case of celiac disease often report frequent or continuous abdominal pain and discomfort, chronic constipation and/or diarrhoea, feelings of numbness or tingling in the feet and hands, chronic fatigue and daytime tiredness, joint pains and general malaise. If left unaddressed, celiac disease can lead to serious illness and is a known cause of osteoporosis and issues with fertility.

However, there are dozens of other signs and symptoms of celiac disease, which fall outside the confines of these common indicators. In fact, research suggests that there are somewhere in the region of 200 potential signs and symptoms of celiac disease, which are often overlooked or incorrectly associated with other potential illnesses.

There is No Formal Way of Diagnosing Celiac Disease - Fact or Fiction?

The days of simply ‘assuming’ a person had celiac disease are long gone. For quite some time now, it has been possible to reach a formal celiac disease diagnosis, through a combination of blood tests and a subsequent endoscopy where required. Celiac disease is no longer diagnosed on the basis of a patient’s symptoms alone, as it is essential for doctors to determine the severity of the case and the extent of any damage it may have already caused.

However, there is currently no formal test or conclusive diagnostic procedure for identifying cases of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Where an individual has a mild or moderate sensitivity to gluten but does not have celiac disease, decisions will typically be made on the basis of their symptoms. A trial and error approach to gluten exclusion and diet alterations may then be adopted, in an attempt to bring the condition under control.

Gluten Intolerance is Becoming More Commonplace and Problematic - Fact or Fiction?

Last up, it is true to say that more cases of celiac disease and gluten intolerance are being reported and diagnosed than ever before. But this does not necessarily mean that either issue is more commonplace than it was in the past.

The rapid rise in the number of cases of gluten intolerance worldwide is attributed to two things - improved diagnostic processes and proactivity on the part of patients. Rather than suffering in silence, people with suspected gluten intolerance are more inclined to consult with professionals today than in decades and generations gone by.

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