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The Health Effects of Eating Gluten

If it is true that doubt grows with knowledge, then perhaps more consumers will become doubters as their awareness grows regarding the health risks of eating too much gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, bulgur, kamut, rye, and spelt as well as other whole grains. The negative side of gluten—its proliferation as a stabilizer, emulsifier, thickener, and anti-caking agent in hundreds of processed foods—from soup and packaged sauce mixes to salad dressings and even self-basting turkey—was brought to the public’s attention by View TV co-host Elizabeth Hasselbeck, who wrote about how to live gluten-free and avoid the symptoms of celiac disease, in her book, The G-Free Diet.

Most recently, cardiologist and author of Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, Dr. William Davis, shed even more light on the dark side of wheat and gluten sensitivity, now imbedded in the consciousness of 20 million Americans who are known to have Celiac Disease, an inherited, autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine when the diet contains gluten.

Hybridized Wheat

The wheat we eat today is not the same wheat our grandmothers used for baking. Davis explains that the major reason for wheat and gluten sensitivity stems from the hybridization of wheat, initially done to improve yield. Older strains of wheat were more prone to damage from wind and rain before a University of Minnesota-trained geneticist developed the exceptionally high-yielding dwarf wheat, which comprises more than 99 percent of all wheat grown worldwide.

Amylopectin A

According to Davis, by weight, modern wheat is approximately 70 percent carbohydrate in a highly digestible form of a starch known as Amylopectin A, which is more easily converted to blood sugar than nearly all other simple or complex carbohydrate foods. Davis explains that gram for gram wheat increases blood sugar and causes insulin problems to a greater degree than even potato chips or sugar.

All foods made with white or wheat flour contain gluten, which gives dough its elasticity. The most obvious are: bagels, beer, bread, cookies, cakes, and many other baked goods, crackers, pasta, pizza, and pretzels. Be aware that many body lotions and cosmetics, as well as baby products, contain wheat.

Healthy grains and starchy foods without gluten such as rice, buckwheat, quinoa, corn, and flours such as potato, rice, sorghum, and almond constitute a wholesome diet when mixed with vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts, unprocessed meat, poultry, and fish, as well as dairy products.

Gluten-Free Menu

Conventional pizza and pasta are not on the meal plan of gluten-sensitive individuals. However, for anyone craving either, Pasta Pomodoro, a locally owned and operated Italian Restaurant in Voorhees, offers a variety of completely fresh Italian and gluten-free appetizers, entrees and desserts.

Owner Pasquale Masters not only wholeheartedly enjoys the opportunity to cater to anyone with special dietary but also to do it by offering delicious food for the entire family to enjoy. “Someone who is gluten, dairy, or casein-sensitive can rest assured that their entire family will enjoy anything on the menu,” says Masters, who notes that few individuals understand that to avoid all possible celiac triggers is not easy because in food preparation a potential for cross contamination exists. “We have a designated area in our kitchen to handle our gluten free meals. All our utensils and cookware used for cooking gluten free are kept separate, and as an extra precaution, our staff is very mindful of washing their hands before touching any gluten free items,” he says.

Food Elimination Diet

Two years ago Matthew Moore, a Marlton resident began to experience unexplainable symptoms: tiredness, achy joints, noticeable pains in the area of his liver, and a metallic taste in his mouth. Having his mercury fillings removed didn’t resolve the issue. When his mother suggested a two-week fast consisting of juices, rice, and vegetables, he did. “She felt that an elimination diet would help me determine if I had a food allergy,” says Moore.

At the end of the fast, Moore slowly reintroduced foods that he had eliminated. When he ate a casein stir-fry dish, which is pure wheat gluten used as a meat substitute, the metallic taste in his mouth returned. “That’s when I had an aha! moment and realized that I was gluten intolerant,” says Moore, who along with his entire family has been gluten-free for two years. Moore’s symptoms are gone and he’s dropped 20 pounds because his body no longer has to deal with an inflammatory response, which promotes weight gain.

Donna Wood, a Nutrition Counselor certified by American Health University and the owner of Health Haven, notes that when her clients and customers follow her advice to eliminate wheat and gluten as well as processed foods for at least 25 days, they always experience some noticeable results almost immediately.  “As they identify foods they love but have to eliminate, I find gluten-free substitutes for them among the many products that I carry in the store,” advises Wood, who adds that anyone who loves pizza is always relieved to discover that Udi’s Gluten Free Foods carries a delicious gluten-free crust.

Dr. Adiel Tel-Oren M.D., founder and president of Ecopolitan Eco-Health Network, notes that when reintroducing foods back into the diet, reactions can be delayed. “When symptoms reappear, there is definitely a sensitivity, which is almost always related to protein in foods eaten most frequently because repeated exposure to complex protein creates the likelihood of an inflammatory response,” says Tel-Oren M.D.

Tel-Oren speaks nationally about how to be a wiser consumer and not fall prey to scare tactics about gluten.  He advises audiences that unfortunately some of the companies, which are manufacturing gluten-free substances because there is now a large audience, are using cheap GMO ingredients—corn, soy powder, peanuts, etc. “This is reason enough to read labels on gluten-free processed foods, as well as on any processed foods,” he says. If there is any doubt about the ingredients, call the manufacturer for clarification. Pay particular attention to wheat-free labels. Although foods may be wheat-free, they can still contain gluten. If you are on medication, ask the pharmacist if your prescription contains wheat or any other grains.

Celiac’s Disease

Not everyone who is gluten-sensitive has Celiac’s disease, which has a long list of symptoms both in and out of the gastrointestinal tract. These include recurring abdominal bloating and pain, chronic diarrhea, foul-smelling, fatty or discolored stool, weight loss, anemia, bone pain, fatigue, and in children and infants, delayed growth and failure to thrive.

Autoimmune damage causes the loss of tiny protrusions in the small intestines called villi, which are essential to the proper absorption of nutrients from food. This can lead to malnutrition, no matter how well you're eating.

Nutrition Works of Medford

Approximately one-third of all customers who shop at Nutrition Works of Medford are searching for gluten-free foods. “We carry more than 100 gluten-free brands of foods as well as vitamins and supplements, which says a lot for how much easier it is to eat gluten-free today,” say owners Debbie and Charlie Green. “And, our customers know that if it doesn’t taste good, we don’t carry it.”

Pasta Pomodoro, 700 Haddonfield-Berlin Rd., Voorhees. Call 856-782-7430 or visit PastapomodoroNJ.com.

Nutrition Works, 510 Stokes Rd., Medford. Call 609-714-8666 or visit NutritionWorksOfMedford.com

Health Haven, 1381 Rte. 38, Hainesport. Call 609-267-7744 or visit HealthHavenInc.com.

Ecopolitan Eco-Health Network, Ecopolitan.com.

Celiac Disease Foundation, celiac.org.

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Health Haven

Health Haven owner, Donna Wood, sells nutritional supplements, vitamins, herbs, homeopathic products, bulk items, and produce for her store and café.