(Photo courtesy of Wise Geek)
Some people can eat anything they want and never feel an adverse effect. Others might be deathly allergic to certain foods. Most of us fall within the middle, with mild allergies we tolerate or just don’t notice. The beauty of our bodies is the resilience of the immune system to handle foreign entities efficiently and without alarm. But certain foods don’t sit well. The body creates an immune system response to the ‘toxins’ that cannot be filtered out, which can range from invisible to severe. It might be a problem caused by disease, external factors, or your genes.
For instance, you might be allergic to gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats. That includes a fair amount of food in supermarkets! A genetic intolerance like Celiac disease might be responsible for your allergies. The body mistakes wheat protein for a similar protein found in the small intestine, which causes inflammation in the intestinal tract trying to get rid of the gluten proteins. The damage caused can lead to troubles with fat digestion, vitamin and mineral malabsorption, and slow the passage of food through the body. These are the more noticeable symptoms of this genetic disorder.
But what if you suffered from anemia with a cause that can’t be pinned down? You might suffer from extreme fatigue, poor calcium absorption, or lactose intolerance. All of this is could be resolved by cutting gluten out of your diet. It can be difficult at times given the subsidies given to grains in America, but it can be managed far easier now with online shops, specialty stores like Whole Foods, or even mainstream stores like Ralphs now carrying gluten-free foods. The options available have never been greater!
But you need to be strict about skipping gluten-foods. You can’t cheat, even for a quick slice of pie at your favorite diner or the occasional beer with your buddies.
It’s surprising how much of our food has gluten, so you’ll need to learn to read labels carefully. Many processed foods in your diet should be cut out. Beware of modified food starch, modified vegetable starch, natural flavors, caramel coloring, hydrolyzed vegetable starch, dextrin, malt, and maltodextrin. They all contain hidden sources of gluten! Keep your foods simple and look for shorter ingredient lists.
Celiac disease is actually rather uncommon, but the intolerance to wheat has grown exponentially to 1 in 100. What has caused this growth is unclear. Some speculation circles around genetically modified foods (much of the grain in America is of GMO origin) or pesticidal residue. I touch on this in my thoughts on “Pesticides, GM Foods and What We Eat”. The allergy might be a result of genes not found in plants inserted into them, causing an immune response. But without strong evidence, the FDA, EPA, or USDA can’t pull these foods from the market.
It’s hard to say with certainty what is causing gluten-intolerance, only that it is an allergy that can be managed by being a well-informed consumer when shopping for food. But this is true of any food allergy.
When learning to live with allergies, be smart and stay informed about what you eat. Learn your triggers. See what works for you. What works for someone else, may not work for you. Consult a doctor if you can and work closely with them. If you follow these guidelines, you’ll be one step closer to a healthier and allergy-free life.