By Jacquelyn Dobrinska
Whether fad or phenomenon, if you are sensitive to gluten Asheville is your friend. We have gluten-free restaurants, gluten-sensitive menus, and New Belgium Brewing even offers a low-gluten beer.
“A lot of people are not aware of how gluten affects their digestion and mood,” says Andrew Snavely, owner of Dobra Tea, which offers gluten-free sweets and savories.
Approximately one percent of the population is allergic to gluten. Even trace amounts—such as that found in shampoo, deodorant or on a toaster or knife—can be life threatening.
A less severe, albeit problematic condition, is gluten intolerance. No diseased tissues exist, but people suffer from symptoms ranging from uncomfortable to debilitating—gas, bloat, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue and brain fog. It can also affect the gut lining, creating leaky gut syndrome; permeate the blood-brain barrier, influencing depression and anxiety; and cause inflammation, contributing to autoimmune conditions, thyroid issues and approximately 55 diseases.
Studies estimate that 15 percent of Americans are gluten intolerant, and most don’t even know it. How has this protein—found in wheat, rye, barley and spelt, staples of the human diet—created such health issues?
“We can’t look at gluten under a microscope,” says Tony Scalia, head baker at Farm and Sparrow. “We need to step back and see how it all interconnects.” Experts offer several theories that may create a perfect storm.
Enzymes, the catalyzers of digestion, play a part. Ideally, they come from the food we eat. Cooking destroys them. Highly processed foods are not only devoid of enzymes but actually pull them from the body, creating a deficiency that may make gluten harder to digest.
The microbiome—a complex ecosystem of symbiotic bacteria living in our gut—also has a role. Due to high stress, habitual use of antibiotics, chlorinated water and other dietary factors, this “gut garden” gets compromised, making it difficult to break down the molecule of gluten.
Farming is also a culprit. In the 1960s, American farmers started planting high-yield dwarf wheat, a genetically modified grain much different than our ancestors’ version. It’s cheaper, and contains more gluten.
We also started to process the grain differently. To maintain shelf life, we removed the germ and left only the starch. The body may not recognize and properly process this altered product.
Lastly, we now eat more gluten. It’s not just in bread, crackers, cereal and pasta, but also dusted on oats, corn and shredded cheese; intermingled in sauces, seasoning and spreads; and used as a cheap filler in processed foods, often under names like hydrolyzed plant protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, vegetable gum, extenders, binders, maltodextrin, natural flavors, artificial flavors and natural colors.
“Educating yourself about potential sources and cooking at home are helpful,” recommends Ryan Prenger, grocery manager at the French Broach Food Co-op. Dobra Tea and Posana Cafe are “gluten-free” restaurants, meaning no gluten is onsite. “People come in and cry (for joy) when they see they can order everything on the menu,” says Snavely. Green Sage Café, Chai Pani, Sunny Point Cafe, Short Street Cakes and others offer “gluten-sensitive” options, which means no gluten is in the dish, but it may be onsite.
To find out if you are gluten intolerant, remove all gluten from your diet for 28 days and see how you feel. Going gluten free may not be the easiest thing you’ve ever done, but if your mood and health improves, it may be one of the best.
Jackie Dobrinska is a wellness coach in Asheville. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 828.337.2737. This article contains general information about medical conditions and complementary treatment, and is not to be considered expert advice.