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Are You Gluten-sensitive?

By Monday, February 22, 2016 ,

I've been talking to a lot of people about how I found out that I'm slightly gluten sensitive and why a lot of people probably are but simply do not know about it. After every such conversation, most of them would ask me to blog about it and so here I am! I must stress that I'm no expert and this is only my opinion. You should always consult your doctor and do more proper research before you embark on any crazy experiments with your diet.

First of, let's find out what gluten really is. According to www.livescience.com, gluten refers to the proteins found in wheat grain but it can also be found in other cereal grains such as rye and barley. It is what makes breads and cake have that elastic texture.

Is Gluten Bad?
If you're gluten-intolerant, then yes...you can't eat any gluten and some severe cases of gluten-intolerance have met with death. The most well-known form of gluten intolerance is celiac disease and when someone with this disease consumes gluten, it will trigger an immune response that damages their intestines, preventing them from absorbing vital nutrients.

Another form of gluten intolerance, although quite rare, is wheat allergy and the reaction is normally through skin, respiratory or gastrointestinal. It is in recent years that scientists have found another form of gluten intolerance where patients may experience many celiac disease symptoms, such as diarrhoea, fatigue and joint pain, but do not appear to have damaged intestines. This is when doctors would recommend the patients to go on a gluten-free diet.

Why the trend to go gluten-free?
There is a perception that going gluten-free is healthier because some articles have written that the human stomach does not digest wheat that well, therefore causing a lot of gas in the stomach and intestines. In addition, the publication of Karyn Seroussi’s "Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder: A Mother’s Story of Research and Recovery" in 2000, and actress Jenny McCarthy’s books and activism, prompted many parents of autistic children to try a diet free of gluten and casein, a protein in milk. As some parents reported success with the diet, scientists devised studies to try to pin down the diet’s impact on behavior. So far, however, these studies haven’t convinced scientists of the diet’s effectiveness.

Nonetheless, this 'health' craze doesn't seem to be ending any time soon especially with celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga going on a complete gluten-free diet and claiming that they lose weight in the process. Gluten-free is now big business and the marketing folks at each of these health food companies aren't going to stop churning out them gluten-free labels. Yay for those with celiac while the rest of us had better make more informed choices.

Why I went gluten-free
As I was researching about endometriosis and other autoimmune diseases, I read about how researchers have seen that there's non-celiac gluten sensitivity (as mentioned earlier) and that people with this gluten sensitivity tend to have other autoimmune diseases or symptoms. I too often felt fatigued and bloated, but I blamed it all on the endometriosis plus stress at work. However, those articles that linked gluten sensitivity to the symptoms of endometriosis made me want to test out this theory.

Thus, I went a full month without eating a lot of gluten. I can't say that I went totally cold turkey because the sad thing about food these days is that there are a lot of gluten traces during the processing of food...even for soy sauce. What I did do was cut out pasta, breads, pizza, wraps, cakes and donuts. However, I did not cut out carbs. I merely chose alternatives such as rice and potato.

I was never a huge fan of cakes, bread and donuts so it was not that hard the first week into this diet. However, lunch was a tough choice because I could not eat pasta, wraps or pizza. I had to stick to potato and rice...which limited the variety of meals. Sometimes, I had no choice but to succumb to eating gluten as I could not be too fussy about my meals when dining with my (now ex) colleagues. Nonetheless, I pressed on.

The result? I lost the bloat but in terms of weight loss, it was about 0.5kg overall but what I liked most of all was that I no longer had that uncomfortable bloating. Moreover, the lack of fatigue was more significant and my energy levels were higher during the day.

When I went back to my regular diet, I experimented again. I took my weight every morning to see whether what I ate the day before would affect my weight the next day. I found out that I could eat gluten at any time of the day except for dinner. If I ate a plate of pasta or even a nice sandwich, I would put on 0.5 to 0.8kg the next day.

Is it all in our heads?
A couple of researchers who studied self-diagnosed gluten-sensitive patients found that that NONE of them were actually gluten sensitive. The study also revealed that these patients were experiencing a "nocebo" effect, where they thought they'd feel worse when given gluten and therefore would really feel worse when given gluten. In other words, it's all psychological.

Another study also states that people who go on gluten-free diets often make other lifestyle changes which contribute to their weight loss or better skin. For example, someone might cook more meals at home rather than eating fast food as they go on this gluten-free diet. They may eat more vegetables and less fatty foods as a result as well.

For me, that was not true because I was still working full time at a 9 to 5 job and although I wasn't eating pizzas and pasta, I was still eating my chye png and rice noodles etc. I was also actively  recording down the calorie intake each day and it hardly changed from my gluten-laden days. That is why my conclusion is that I'm slightly sensitive to gluten and it has been helping me control the bloat better than all the other 'solutions' that I get from therapists at the spas.

Many dieticians do not recommend going on a gluten-free diet because grains that contain gluten often contain other essential nutrients such as vitamin B6. Moreover, some manufacturers add in fat into gluten-free products in order to enhance the taste or to improve the texture. I've also seen some gluten-free products containing white rice flour, which means that it has been processed twice, making me wonder how much nutrients would've been stripped away before it became noodles or pasta sheets.

Nevertheless, please do not take my word for it. Go see the doctor, get yourself tested and then experiment a little with your diet. We are unique individuals and our diets should be customised for our current lifestyles too.

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