Rising concerns about gluten

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina MS, RD, and Brenda Davis RD

Portrait of Vesanto Melina • Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat, spelt, kamut, rye, barley and triticale (a wheat-rye hybrid). Approximately one percent of the population suffers from celiac disease, a severe autoimmune response to gluten. For many years, people who believed they had adverse reactions to gluten were told gluten wasn’t the cause if they tested negative on celiac tests. Celiac disease is a serious digestive disorder in which the body’s immune system reacts to gluten and causes intestinal damage.

In 2011, a team of experts from the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine released research suggesting that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a distinct clinical entity, affecting six to seven percent of the population.

In wheat, kamut and spelt, the proteins that make up gluten are gliadin and glutenin. Other proteins that can injure those with celiac disease are secalin in rye and hordein in barley. Unless contaminated by gluten-containing grains, oats are safe for most with celiac disease, however, a small percentage are sensitive to avenin (a protein in oats) and must avoid oats. While uncontaminated oats are becoming available, the majority in North America are processed on machinery contaminated by other grains.

In celiac disease, there is inflammation and general damage along the small intestine, causing flattening of the villi (tiny hair-like appendages that line the small intestine) and a resultant failure to absorb essential nutrients. For those with gluten sensitivity, the effects are less severe, though they can fall along a spectrum of varying severity. As with celiac disease, symptoms may affect the gastrointestinal system (abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea and constipation), overall behaviour (depression, foggy mind, ADHD-like behaviour and autism), iron deficiency anemia (fatigue, weakness, lack of concentration), joint pain, muscle disturbances, osteoporosis, leg numbness, migraines, sinus problems and a measureable immune response.

When asked about the surge in gluten-related conditions, lead investigator Dr. Alessio Fasano observed that although humans have eaten wheat for millennia, they lack enzymes that can completely digest gluten.

Those with severe sensitivity should completely avoid gluten. Others with mild sensitivity may tolerate the occasional gluten-containing food or one in which grains have been sprouted. Sprouting reduces gluten content without eliminating it.

Even if gluten isn’t much of an issue, it’s wise to include a variety of whole grains in your diet. This will maximize their benefits, as each type of grain offers a unique combination of nutrients, fibre and protective phytochemicals.

Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina are BC-based dietitians and co-authors of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition (for health professionals and nutrition enthusiasts) and Becoming Vegan: Express Edition.
Email vesanto.melina@gmail.com

Whole grain guidelines

  • Vary grain consumption and include pseudo-grains in the mix: amaranth, buckwheat, corn, Job’s tears, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, sorghum, teff and wild rice.
  • Choose intact whole grains over processed products and sprout them for added nutrition.
  • If gluten sensitivity is a factor, use more squash, sweet potatoes, corn and starchy vegetables.
  • Don’t regularly add wheat bran to foods; it can interfere with mineral absorption.

3 thoughts on “Rising concerns about gluten”

  1. Working in oats for years I would suggest that the greatest misconception is that people believe that oats contain gluten. Of course this is not the case and as your article has pointed out it other grain contaminant in at based products that create the problem. I now actively challenge food manufactures who misrepresent oats on their packaging and labels which suggests that they do contain gluten. Misrepresentation of fact is actually a deformation to oats as a product.
    oats “viva la difference”
    Chris Green

  2. KAMUT® Brand khorasan is an organic, non-genetically modified, ancient wheat variety similar to durum. In 1990, “KAMUT” was registered as a trademark by the Quinn family in order to support organic farming and preserve the ancient khorasan wheat variety. Under the KAMUT® Brand name, this khorasan wheat must always be grown organically, never be hybridized or modified, and contain high levels of purity and nutrition. Today, Kamut International owns and has registered the KAMUT® trademark in over 40 countries, and is responsible for protection and marketing of all KAMUT® Brand khorasan wheat throughout the world.

    KAMUT® wheat is grown on dryland certified organic farms primarily in Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Khorasan wheat is distinctive because it is about two and half times larger than regular durum wheat, is elongated with a pronounced “hump,” and is uniquely vitreous, with a rich golden color The grain is prized by consumers who appreciate the grain for its high energy nutrition, easy digestibility, nutty/buttery taste, and firm texture. KAMUT® khorasan wheat is higher in protein, selenium, amino acids, and Vitamin E than most modern wheat and contains essential minerals such as magnesium and zinc. It is used as whole grain berries, whole grain flour, white flour, flakes, and puffs to make a variety of products. Some specific benefits of using KAMUT® khorasan are receiving more nutrients, protein, and taste than most commonly consumed whole wheat – plus supporting organic agriculture and helping to preserve an ancient grain.

    Khorasan is a variety of wheat thus has gluten content. A lot of people who are not able to tolerate wheat tell us that they are able to tolerate KAMUT® khorasan wheat. KI has ongoing research to understand why – it is our theory that because KAMUT® khorasan is an ancient grain, it retains the qualities that made it desirable so many years ago.

    Please visit the Kamut International website at http://www.kamut.com to learn more. And follow us on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter to keep up with the latest news!

    My kind regards – Jamie

    Jamie Ryan Lockman | Regional Director – North America
    Kamut International, Ltd.
    P.O. Box 4903 | Missoula, MT 59806 | USA
    406.251.9418 phone | 406.251.9420 fax
    jamie.lockman@kamut.com | http://www.kamut.com

    • Thanks for posting this valuable info, Jamie! WE usually don’t post such comments that are quite self-promotional on our site but as I personally know of your product and that it is very high quality and a great option for many people, I’m making an exception. I’ve enjoyed Kamut Khorasan for many years. Keep up the great work! And please consider advertising your amazing grain in Common Ground Magazine!
      I’ll send you a Media Kit.
      Best, Adam


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