Gluten intolerance explained

Hummus is a really good source of protein and can be eaten with rice cakes, vegetables or even NutThins, sunflower seed crackers or any other type of gluten-free cracker you can find in the gluten-free aisle. (Albertas Agejevas/Creative Commons Flickr)

Many of you might be noticing more and more people discovering they have a gluten intolerance. If you’re one of those people, this article is for you. If you don’t think you’re one of those people, you might not even know you’re intolerant.

Gluten is defined as “a substance present in cereal grains, especially wheat, that is responsible for the elastic texture of dough,” or in a more scientific definition, “a composite of storage proteins termed prolamins and glutelins and stored together with starch in the endosperm of various cereal grains.” The most common signs of gluten intolerance are bloating, abdominal pain, headaches, skin problems, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, anxiety, depression and anemia. 

These symptoms will occur after you’ve eaten gluten and can last for days. Sometimes people aren’t even aware they have these allergies to gluten. For example, I had no idea I was intolerant to gluten until this past summer when I got tested. I really thought severe, sharp stomach pains were just common after I ate anything. Once I cut gluten out completely, I realized the pain was totally abnormal and occurred only because I would continuously eat something my body was allergic to. My body is only sensitive to gluten protein, but some people have a much more severe reaction to consuming it.

Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are two different things, one being slightly more serious than the other. Celiac disease happens when gluten triggers your immune system, attacking the lining of your small intestine. It’s autoimmune, which means gluten doesn’t directly cause the problems. Rather, the way your immune system reacts to gluten is what causes the issues. Studies have shown that Celiac disease now affects 1 percent of the population, but 5 percent might not even know they have the condition. This disease can cause malnutrition, osteoporosis and even cancer if you don’t take measures to avoid gluten.

Gluten sensitivity, or intolerance, is a result of a different immune system reaction. There is some controversy on whether or not it even exists, but most can attest to it being a very real and painful thing. When someone with an intolerance consumes gluten, their body views it as an “invader” and tries to fight it with inflammation inside and outside the digestive tract. A lot of questions remain unanswered when it comes to the concept of gluten sensitivity because scientists are not yet sure what it leads to or if it is a real condition, but blood tests can prove whether or not you have this intolerance and how severe it is for you. 

Because of this more recent acknowledgement of gluten intolerances and Celiac disease, a lot of food producers and restaurants now offer gluten-free products and options. There’s even a whole aisle dedicated to gluten-free foods at most mainstream grocery stores. If you have trouble finding things to eat when suffering with this sensitivity, I’ve got some suggestions that are healthy and nutritionally beneficial.

Hummus is a really good source of protein and can be eaten with rice cakes, vegetables or even NutThins, sunflower seed crackers or any other type of gluten-free cracker you can find in the gluten-free aisle. There are also gluten-free Fig Newtons, gluten-free cookies of every kind (which are actually really good) and veggie chips. Potato chips, popcorn and most types of oatmeal are gluten free to begin with, so you don’t have to worry about those.

It can seem very restrictive since a lot of everyone’s favorite snack foods contain gluten, but in reality, there are plenty of substitutions that are just as good. Once you get used to a gluten-free diet, you’ll feel more energized, your skin will most likely clear up and you’ll feel better overall. Getting rid of the sometimes toxic protein can really improve both your mental and physical health and can be a truly healthy lifestyle.


Tessa Pawlik is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at tessa.pawlik@uconn.edu.