The great gluten debate

By Jackie Rainford Corcoran Explore Big Sky Health Columnist

Gluten is getting a lot of press lately. Some vilify it as public enemy No. 1, while others come to its defense as the latest whipping boy of a diet-crazed America. Who’s right?

The short answer: It depends on each individual and their typical diet.

In some, gluten triggers Celiac, a potentially debilitating autoimmune disease. Others have a gluten sensitivity that causes less serious but very real symptoms like gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. And some feel no ill effects from gluten at all.

The most common way Americans ingest gluten – a protein found in wheat and other grains – is by eating wheat-containing foods like bread, pasta, boxed cereal and baked goods. Beer also has gluten, along with less obvious foods like soy sauce and salad dressing. It’s even in some medications.

Some people have told me that they were skeptical of the gluten-free or “GF” movement. But after trying to heal their own digestive problems by eliminating gluten, they found relief.

A woman in her 70s attended a talk I gave on digestive health in September at the Ridge Athletic Club in Bozeman. She stayed after the talk to explain how she had suffered from embarrassing gastric distress for most of her adult life – so much so that she was the brunt of vulgar gas jokes among her friends and family.

After reading the book “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis two years ago, she tried eliminating wheat from her diet, and to her surprise and delight, found relief. When I asked how long it took to get rid of her symptoms she said, “Four days.”

She went on to tell me that her grandson visited recently and she splurged, treating herself to a locally made doughnut. After no ill effects, they returned for a second doughnut. Still feeling fine, they went back for a third. Her gut quickly went from great to gassy and, as she puts it, “…was back to putt-putting around.”

Her story brings me to my personal opinion on this hot topic. Unless you’re a full-blown Celiac, eating gluten occasionally is not going to kill you. Problems present themselves when eating refined convenience foods from delis and fast food joints on a regular basis. Highly processed foods out of boxes and bags – including foods labeled gluten-free – contribute to the varied and common digestive complaints we have today.

Buying mostly whole foods, including fruits and vegetables, making time to prepare them, and eating consciously prevents over-indulgence on gluten and processed junk food.

Stay tuned for my next article that will take a closer look at Genetically Modified Organisms and how they affect our food supply.

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach, a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, public speaker and health activist. Contact her at jackie@thetahealth.org, or find more at thetahealth.org.