What is Gluten Intolerance?
Gluten intolerance, also known as gluten sensitivity or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), is a condition in which your body reacts poorly to consuming gluten. Gluten is a protein found in cereals such as wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten intolerance is often mistaken with celiac disease or wheat allergy as some of the symptoms of gluten intolerance are similar to celiac disease and wheat allergy. However, it should be noted that symptoms of gluten intolerance are less severe than celiac disease or a wheat allergy. While avoiding specific foods is the general treatment plan for all three, these are not the same conditions.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition characterized by inflammation of the lining of the small intestine due to an autoimmune reaction (the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissues) against food containing gluten, leading to gastrointestinal and malabsorptive problems.
Wheat allergy is an allergic reaction to foods containing wheat. It can be fatal as some of its symptoms can cause loss of consciousness or hamper breathing, which is not the case with gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
On the contrary, gluten intolerance can cause discomfort, but it is not likely to lead to severe symptoms that warrant emergency care.
Causes of Gluten Intolerance
Physicians are unsure what exactly causes gluten intolerance and how it relates to similar illnesses. Some experts have opined that other proteins in foods such as a specific carbohydrate may be causing some of these abnormal reactions and not gluten. Other research indicates that wheat might be causing problems with the digestive system by affecting the lining of an individual’s digestive tract. Researchers are still learning more about gluten intolerance, but without any concrete evidence.
Signs and Symptoms of Glucose Intolerance
A person with gluten sensitivity will usually develop symptoms after eating foods containing gluten. These symptoms may include:
- Gassiness or bloating
- Stomach pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Brain fog or difficulty concentrating
- Bone or joint pain
- Anxiety or depression
Diagnosis of Gluten Intolerance
Firstly, your physician will review your symptoms and medical history. If your history and symptoms are indicative of gluten intolerance, then certain tests will be ordered to rule out similar conditions, such as celiac disease and wheat allergy to confirm the diagnosis of gluten tolerance. Some of these tests include:
- Celiac disease test: Blood tests are performed to diagnose celiac disease. If the results of the tests indicate specific antibodies, then you may have celiac disease. In order to confirm this diagnosis, your physician may order a biopsy of the small intestine through a procedure called an endoscopy in which tissue samples from the intestinal lining are obtained to look for damage, which confirms the diagnosis of celiac disease.
- Wheat allergy test: In order to detect wheat allergy, your physician will perform a test called the skin-prick test. This test involves the injection of a small quantity of purified wheat protein underneath the surface of your skin, typically on your upper back or forearm. If the site of injection turns swollen or red, a wheat allergy is confirmed. Wheat allergy can also be diagnosed through a blood test in which a small amount of blood is drawn and tested for specific antibodies that have developed as a reaction to the consumption of wheat products.
If the above tests rule out celiac disease and wheat allergy, then you most likely have gluten intolerance.
Treatment for Gluten Intolerance
The treatment for gluten intolerance basically involves consuming a diet free from gluten protein. Your physician will specify a list of foods that are devoid of gluten and see if your symptoms improve with following a gluten-free diet. You may also need to take certain supplements and vitamins to ensure your body is receiving all the nutrients required for you to stay healthy.
Foods to Avoid
Some of the gluten-harboring foods that you need to avoid if you have gluten intolerance include:
- Gluten-containing grains, such as wheat, rye, barley, wheat berries, farina, farro, kamut, and spelt
- Most crackers, wraps, and breads, such as whole-wheat bread, rye bread, white bread, flour tortillas, wheat crackers, whole wheat wraps, and bagels
- Certain condiments containing gluten, such as marinades, soy sauce, salad dressings, barbecue sauce, cream sauces, and ketchup
- Most baked foods, such as pastries, cakes, cookies, muffins, doughnuts, pancakes and waffles, soft and hard pretzels
- Wheat-based pastas, such as spaghetti, noodles, dumplings, and gnocchi made from wheat flour
- Snack foods, such as cereal bars, granola bars, energy bars, candy bars, chips, and snack mixes
- Certain beverages, such as beer, drink mixes, pre-made coffee drinks, commercial chocolate milk, and bottled wine coolers
- Several processed foods and other products, such as French fries and other fried foods, breakfast cereals, meat substitutes, prepared lunch meats, canned soups, and flavored tofu
Foods to Eat
If you are gluten intolerant, there are several healthy and delicious foods that are naturally gluten free. These include:
- Fruits and vegetables, such as citrus fruits, avocadoes, bananas, apples, plums, peaches, spinach, onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, and zucchini
- Legumes, such as chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, peas, pinto beans, cannellini beans, adzuki beans, and red lentils
- Gluten-free grains and grain products, such as millet, corn, brown rice, oats, buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, teff, and gluten-free crackers, breads, and other baked goods made with these grains
- Animal proteins, such as poultry, meat, eggs, fish, shellfish, and dairy products like cheese and yogurt
- Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, almond butter, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds
- Certain seasonings and condiments, such as pesto, coconut aminos, fresh herbs like cilantro, rosemary, and basil, most dried spices and herbs, apple cider vinegar, mustard, and most salsas
- Healthy oils and fats, such as olive oil, avocado oil, cheese, full-fat yogurt, avocados, unsweetened coconut, and seeds, nuts, and nut butters