If you’ve noticed over the last few years, many people have gone gluten free. But do you know why they’ve made that choice? Do you have any idea what kinds of effects a gluten free diet can have for you? Is it necessary? Is it just a fad? What is gluten anyway?
First of all, gluten is a protein found in wheat. Therefore, gluten is in many packaged products like cookies, crackers, breads (whether store-bought or homemade), all sorts of snack foods (including many kinds of chips), and even in many soups and sauces and dressings. Gluten seems to be nearly everywhere! Gluten is found in so many products because it’s what makes breads soft and spongy and what helps gives many soups and sauces their creamy texture. It’s also found in many flavorings, so it can show up in products that you’d never guess contained gluten.
So is a gluten free diet necessary? That depends. If you have celiac disease, then it is definitely necessary to completely avoid gluten. People with celiac disease are not able to tolerate even the smallest amount of gluten. It causes severe sickness (diarrhea, abdominal pain, etc.) and eventually leads to damage of the intestines as well as other serious health problems.
Other people who don’t have celiac disease can still be sensitive to gluten. That means the symptoms are not as severe, but they are still there. Gluten sensitivity doesn’t lead to the kinds of serious and life-long health problems that celiac disease can lead to, but it still causes the person to feel bad and have gastrointestinal symptoms when he or she eats foods containing gluten.
Another thing that I found out about gluten is that it can lead to chronic inflammation in the body. For many many years, I’ve suffered from severe TMJ pain (pain in my temporomandibular joints—in other words, pain in my jaw joints). My sister began doing research and found that gluten contributes to chronic inflammation. The reason I have TMJ pain is because my jaw joints stay inflamed. I’ve tried every treatment known to man (including surgery) to help lessen the pain, and nothing has worked very well or had any lasting effects. I literally haven’t had a completely pain-free day in the last 10 years. (That may sound like an exaggeration. Unfortunately, it isn’t.)
Just when I had given up and was trying to learn to just live with the pain, my sister told me about her research into gluten and how it contributes to chronic inflammation. I was afraid to even hope that she might be right, but I was certainly willing to try out a gluten free (GF) diet to see if it lessened my pain, and it did!! After completely giving up gluten for just a few weeks, I could already tell a difference. And not only did I have far less TMJ pain, I also felt better in general!
I’m not saying that everyone needs to be on a GF diet. But I am saying that, for some people, a GF diet is very important. For other people, even though it’s not necessary, it can still be very helpful. Some people have reported fewer migraines and more energy from going GF. Others have tried it and haven’t really seen anything change (though there still could be some positive changes going on inside the body). So what I’m saying is that a GF diet may be something to consider if you suffer from tummy troubles, inflammation (like TMJ or arthritis), anemia, low energy, migraines, etc. I’m definitely not a doctor, and you should absolutely talk to your own doctor before making any big changes, but it’s something worth considering.
Next time I’ll cover information about what you should and shouldn’t eat if you’re on a GF diet. Fortunately, more and more companies and restaurants are offering GF options, so it’s not nearly as difficult to eat GF as it was years ago. If you are GF, has it made a big difference in your health or how you feel? Why did you decide to go GF? For those who aren’t GF, are you considering it? Why?
Updated 2 years later: I have now been gluten free for 2 years. After going gluten free a little over 2 years ago and having far less TMJ pain, I decided to do a “test” to see if it really was my gluten free diet that was responsible for the huge decrease in TMJ pain. I ate a few gluten-containing foods over a couple of days, and I very quickly noticed a definite increase in pain. In fact, even though I only ate food containing gluten for a couple of days, the worst (most severe) pain lasted for about 3 days longer. After that, I was in less pain, but it lasted for another week or so. After doing that experiment twice, I was absolutely convinced that the gluten was what was causing the majority of my TMJ pain. I still have damage in my jaw joints and still do experience occasional pain for a day or two, but it’s not nearly as extreme as it was when I cheated on my GF diet. For that reason, I haven’t cheated on my diet for at least 18 months, and I still feel much better and am still completely convinced that being GF is the way to be!