Nutrition: Against The Grain

Ever since man shifted from food gatherer to food cultivator, humans have been challenged with altered nutrition. For many individuals, this change has proven to be too drastic for their digestive tracts. Wheat has been called “the staff of life,” but its prevalence in the modern diet may be why it’s now a common food allergen. Food repetition is believed to contribute to the development of food allergies along with other factors such as stress and poor integrity or the intestinal lining.

Food allergy or hypersensitivity occurs when the body perceives certain proteins as a threat. Reactions can occur in any part of the body, with symptoms ranging from mild (excessive mucus production, indigestion, hives, for example) to severe (eczema, arthritis, depression). It’s estimated that 60 percent or more of the American population suffers from symptoms associated with food reactions.

For some people, wheat and certain other grains are particularly toxic. Gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley, has been identified as the culprit in celiac disease, a lifelong disorder in people who are genetically susceptible. In these individuals, gluten damages the mucosal surface of the small intestine, causing abdominal cramping, gas, diarrhea, constipation, oily stools, unexplained anemia, and weight loss or weight gain with large appetite. If untreated, celiac disease can be life-threatening since damage to the intestinal lining can interfere with nutrient absorption.

Individuals who are sensitive to wheat or other foods (dairy, for example) usually experience an improvement in symptoms when they rotate these foods in their diet. In other words, the food is not eaten more than once every three days. For those who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, it’s imperative that they follow a strict gluten-free diet. This can be quite a challenge, though, since gluten is often hidden in foods. Ingredients that may contain gluten are hydrolyzed vegetable protein, textured vegetable protein, hydrolyzed plant protein, malt, modified food starch, soy sauces that contain wheat, and other prohibited substances and natural flavorings.

If you suspect that wheat or other foods are causing discomfort, try eliminating them from your diet. For a positive ID, ask a doctor about food allergy blood testing.