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Should you give up gluten? Understanding its impact on the body

Not everyone with gut issues needs to avoid gluten, but eating too much gluten can really impact how you feel throughout the day.

Published:

November 11, 2022

Written by:

Medically Reviewed by:

Dr. Mark Hyman

Published:

November 11, 2022

Clinical Advisory Board
Clinical Advisory Board
Nutrition
Nutrition

Sandwiches, pasta, pastries, hoppy beer; A number of my favorite comfort foods definitely trigger my GI symptoms, and yet I eat them anyway. One other thing these foods have in common? They all contain gluten. 

Coincidence? I think not.

Not everyone with gut issues needs to avoid gluten, but eating too much gluten can really impact how I feel throughout the day. For a long time, I didn’t know why my body reacted so strongly to gluten. Then the Salvo Health doctors, and Dr. Mark Hyman from Salvo Health’s Clinical Advisory Board, taught me more about the body's response to gluten, and how to balance my love for baguettes and my gut health. 

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What is gluten and is gluten bad for you?

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale (which is a cross between wheat and rye).  While gluten is naturally occurring, it can also be extracted, concentrated and added to other foods. Gluten is often used as a bonding agent for processed foods, that keeps them together.

Examples of gluten “hidden” in foods include.. 

  • Soy sauce and teriyaki sauce 
  • Pre-packaged deli meats
  • Some packaged seasonings, like taco seasoning
  • Plant-based or vegan meats 
  • Cereals or cornflakes
  • Granola bars 

Get a full list here

What is gluten intolerance? 

It’s important to be able to identify what has gluten, and what doesn’t, especially for people with Celiac Disease, gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance. People with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance develop inflammation in their intestinal tracts in response by gluten. For those with Celiac Disease, gluten can also prevent absorption of some nutrients, leading to long-term health issues. They’re likely to experience diarrhea, bloating, constipation, abdominal pain, and other gastro issues. 

Dr. Mark Hyman explains why this bodily response is so common: ”Gluten is super starchy and sugary, which affects your microbiome in a bad way. Gluten creates this problem of a leaky gut, and that creates all these inflammatory diseases as a result.” 

There’s also evidence suggesting that there is more gluten in our food now, than in decades or centuries previous, due to our agricultural practices including glyphosate

“Because we've changed the wheat we grow, it has way more gluten antibodies. The wheat is often sprayed with glyphosate before harvest, which kills the microbiome of the soil, and increases the amount of gluten in our crops.” Dr. Mark Hyman suggests sticking with a whole food diet, rather than eating too many wheat products or processed foods. Buying your produce from a farmers market can also reduce the amount of agricultural chemicals you might consume. 

Should you always avoid gluten? 

While it might seem the right idea to cut gluten out of your diet, it can be tricky. As I mentioned before, gluten can be found in food you would never suspect contains wheat, and cutting out entire food groups might not be sustainable for most. 

Dr. Mark Hyman does press the importance of trying to cut back: “We should be avoiding modern dwarf wheat or any form of American wheat.” He does make a point to say that because European agricultural practices are different, and they’ve banned the use of glyphosate, many can eat wheat products in Europe and not feel the same stomach irritation or gastrointestinal symptoms. 

Here are some ways to reduce the amount of gluten in your diet, without having to cut out whole food categories:

  • Eat gluten-free or sourdough bread and pasta (Sourdough contains less gluten than wheat or white bread!)
  • Increase the amount of vegetables you eat. Get a cheeseburger on a lettuce wrap or eat zoodles instead of noodles 
  • Occasionally opt for gluten-free options at restaurants to see if the reduction of gluten makes you feel better
  • Reach for non-gluten whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, or steel cut oats. 
  • Check labels and know the different types of wheat to prevent eating something with “hidden” gluten 
  • And as Dr. Hyman says, “People need to focus less on fad diets and more on eating whole, unprocessed foods.” Fruits, veggies, fish, farm-to-table meats included! 

How to tell if gluten is triggering your GI symptoms 

So maybe you try reducing the amount of gluten in your diet or go on a gluten-free diet, but you don’t experience any changes in your gastrointestinal symptoms. You’re still dealing with bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and pain. So maybe gluten isn’t the problem… or it’s just part of the problem. 

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If you’re trying to figure out what food, or habit, is causing your symptoms, Salvo Health can help. When you sign up for Salvo Health to take care of your chronic GI condition, you’ll get access to our app, staffed with a Care Team including a doctor and health coach, who will help you find answers. They can give you an accurate diagnosis, help you with medications or supplements, and help you adjust your lifestyle, including nutrition, movement, and sleep, to support your gut health. 

Eating better is easier with Salvo Health on your side. Start your free assessment today

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