Going without gluten: an experiment in wellness

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On a typical busy day, you might grab a muffin for breakfast, eat a sandwich for lunch and order pizza for dinner. You might even visit the vending machine for a snack of crackers or pretzels. These choices are so common that we rarely stop to think about what we’re eating.

But for about 1 percent of the population, all those foods would be off limits. The reason is the presence of gluten, a protein found in wheat and similar grains. People with coeliac disease can’t digest this protein, and a diet like this would cause severe gastrointestinal distress and ultimately damage to the stomach lining.

If this condition is so rare, why are more and more people giving up gluten? Why are sales of gluten-free products soaring, while restaurants from fast food to fine dining are offering gluten-free options?

When we eat food with gluten, our bodies go through a similar process to the one that causes coeliacs so much pain. While we might not have an immediate reaction, over time we notice general fatigue, digestive troubles, or skin breakouts. These symptoms are so prevalent that we’ve begun to accept them as part of modern urban living.

Proteins like gluten must be broken down into individual amino acids in order for the body to process them. But we don’t have the enzymes to fully break down gluten, so a large protein called gliadin remains. When gliadin hits your bloodstream, the body sees it as an invader and triggers an immune response.

Our bodies are equipped to deal with these invaders, which is how we fight off colds and other infections. But research indicates that the constant inflammation caused by a steady intake of gluten can be a precursor to disease.

Gliadin also has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, where it has an affinity for opiate receptors. This stimulates your appetite, encouraging you to eat even more bread even as your body is struggling to digest the last round.

Removing gluten from your diet is one of the first changes to experiment with if you’re trying to lose weight or feel better in general. For a week, skip the sandwich for lunch and have a salad or soup with protein, such as our salmon and lentil soup. Try replacing your nightly bowl of pasta with a rice-based dish, such as our black rice with prawns and scallop.

Your digestive system has been working overtime to deal with gluten. Give it a week off and see what changes you observe. With some creative food choices, you may find you never miss the bread.

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