Who doesn’t love pasta? Fact: everyone loves pasta. But since it tastes so delicious, we often forget how damaging it can be to our guts and body. What makes it so harmful to our bodies is the culprit we hear so much about, but don’t actually know much about… Gluten. But what exactly is gluten and what makes it potentially harmful to us?
Let’s start with “what is gluten?”. Gluten is a protein in wheat which most pastas, breads, oats, pastries, crackers, and pretzels are made from. It also hides in foods people wouldn’t suspect, such as soy sauce. It’s a common ingredient in staple foods that make up today’s Standard American Diet (SAD).
It’s very common for people to believe they have a gluten allergy also known as Celiacs Disease, but get tested negative. In fact, it’s pretty rare that someone does have celiacs. However, there is still a chance gluten could be the culprit causing you stomach stress. While you may not have a severe gluten allergy where gluten must be strictly avoided, you can instead have what’s known as a gluten sensitivity or intolerance. Today, there is an increase in the amount of people reporting gluten sensitivities. This means they still have trouble digesting gluten or get uncomfortable side effects after indulging in foods containing gluten.
For me, this was the case. I knew I developed a gluten sensitivity regardless of what doctors and my test for celiacs said. Every time I ate bagels, bread, pasta, or anything containing wheat, I would feel the food sitting in my upper abdomen causing me constant discomfort. It felt like a “pit” in my stomach all day long, and if I would press on my stomach it would hurt. I didn’t have an appetite and was constantly stressed over this as it was all I could focus on. It would last all day and I would try everything to get rid of it including, herbal teas (ginger, peppermint, etc), peppermint capsules, Tums, Pepto Bismol—anything to get rid of this dull ache.
Nothing worked to get rid of the pain besides time. It would take a full day or more for the discomfort go away. It wasn’t until I went on an elimination diet and cut gluten out completely that I started to feel better. I no longer experienced this stomach discomfort. From that point on, I wanted to understand the effects gluten had on my gut and why not just those with sensitivities should avoid it.
Let’s talk about the negative impact gluten has on the body. The proteins found in wheat, especially gluten, are irritating to the gut lining and cause inflammation. So every time you enjoy some pasta or bread, you’re causing inflammation in the gut. If your gut is constantly inflamed, this puts you at a higher risk for intestinal permeability, meaning food particles can easily pass through into your bloodstream. This is also known as “leaky gut”. Leaky gut results in nutritional deficiencies as you are no longer able to absorb important vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat. Overtime, this leads to development of more serious illnesses, such as autoimmune diseases as your body begins to attack its own cells. What happens is, as your gut allows food particles to pass through, your immune system begins to recognize them as foreign invaders, since they shouldn’t be in the bloodstream. Eventually, the foreign invaders begin to mimic your own cells causing your body to send an attack on your own cells, also known as “cell mimicry.” Your immune system becomes weak as it is constantly working to fight and you will experience “flare ups” of symptoms, depending on the autoimmune condition you develop. Some examples of autoimmune conditions include, Celiacs Disease (as previously mentioned), Ulcerative Colitis, and Chron’s Disease.
Other debilitating symptoms gluten has on your gut are bloating, indigestion, acid reflux, constipation or diarrhea, and pain. And it doesn’t cause pain in just your gut, but can also contribute to aches and pains throughout your entire body! So for people experiencing pain elsewhere such as, knee pain, back aches, shoulder or neck pain, etc., it is important to cut out inflammatory foods, such as those containing gluten, in addition to other pain management methods. Gluten can also cause brain fog, fatigue, mental health problems (anxiety/depression), acne, eczema, and other skin conditions.
Gluten has tons of negative side effects and can be even more detrimental to your health in the long-run. So if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms or health concerns, try cutting out gluten and see how you feel. If you choose to eliminate gluten from your diet, you will need to be persistent and cut it out for anywhere from 30 to 60 days to really notice any difference.
Unfortunately, the longer you have experienced specific health issues, the longer it can take to heal. Gluten and its negative impact can linger in your body for quite some time. But with patience and persistence, your gut and body can heal—and you can feel good again!
I’m sure you’re wondering “what the heck do I eat if I can’t eat pasta, bread, crackers, pastries, and bagels?!” Well, I’m excited to share with you that there are tons of gluten-free (GF) options out there that are actually good for you, and have positive effects on your body and health. And I’m not so much talking about processed GF products you’ll find on the supermarket shelves like GF bread or cookies. I’m talking about real, good for you, nutrient-dense whole foods! This includes meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, and grains, nuts, and seeds if tolerated. Of course you can experiment with GF boxed items (crackers, pastas, and such), but always be careful when buying GF items in store as they can contain preservatives, artificial ingredients, and other unnatural additives which aren’t good for you.
A quick and easy meal you can make for lunch or dinner is my lentil pasta with homemade vegan pesto and roasted vegetables recipe. Check it out here!
Remember, healing is a process and our bodies need different things at different points in our lives based on our current circumstances. So while you may have tolerated gluten for years, your body changes, and you may not be able to at this time. It doesn’t mean you won’t always be able to. Listen to your body, as your body knows what it needs in the moment.
If you’re struggling with a potential gluten intolerance, celiacs, or any other stomach problems, schedule a free discovery session with us to find out how we can help your gut heal so you can enjoy life again!
Jenn Horowitz, FNTP, CPT is a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and Certified Personal Trainer who works to address the root cause of illness. Jenn is the founder of JTH Wellness, a holistic health nutrition counseling practice specialized in helping people with stomach problems take control of their health through nutrition and lifestyle changes. Jenn works to support and educate others so that they can enjoy life again, pain and worry free. Learn more about Jenn’s nutrition counseling services and schedule a free 15-minute discovery session by visiting her website, http://www.JTHwellness.com.