It seems gluten-intolerant is the latest dietary fad, and the number of new products catering to gluten intolerance grows every day. But what are truly the signs of gluten intolerance, particularly in women? The signs and symptoms are broad and often seem very general. Is gluten sensitivity a real thing? What does it mean to have an intolerance to gluten? And how might our bodies be responding to the prevalence of gluten in so many more products that in the past?
What is Gluten?
Put simply, gluten is a mix of two proteins found in wheat, rye and barley. Gluten gives food its elastic quality and acts as the ‘glue’ that holds food together. Most people who have gluten intolerance, or its more severe counterpart, celiac disease, never even know they have it. And most doctors do NOT know enough about nutrition to diagnose it. I personally went to doctors for 2 years before deciding, based on my own research, to quit gluten for once and for all. My symptoms included abdominal pain, endometriosis, mood swings, exhaustion and anxiety. I was told it was all in my head, and that going “gluten free” was not beneficial for anyone except a small minority of the population with diagnosable celiac disease. Well, the doctors were wrong.
Unfortunately, gluten intolerance cannot be diagnosed via a blood test or any other simple method. The best way to know if you have a gluten intolerance is to avoid gluten completely for a set period of time (about 2-3 weeks to start) and see if your symptoms improve.
What are the Signs of Gluten Intolerance?
There are numerous signs of gluten intolerance in women that should NOT be ignored.
- gas, bloating, indigestion and/or constipation
- lethargy, fatigue, brain fog
- female hormone problems including PCOS, endometriosis and severe PMS.
- inflammation and pain in joints
- depression and other mood disorders
For 2-3 weeks, avoid ALL gluten. This is hard, at least initially, because gluten has contaminated so many of our food products. You must read labels. Many products that are gluten-free will have a Gluten Free label on them; it is important, however, to confirm that the product was not made in a manufacturing facility with non-gluten free products, as you run the risk of cross-contamination.
Following is a partial list of foods you need to avoid:
- bread (When I do find myself craving some bread, I usually choose Udi’s Granola Gluten Free Bread Loaf (8-pack) or I bake my own using a gluten-free flour alternative. I also like gluten-free wraps.
- most breakfast cereals (my absolute favorite gluten-free and really, really healthy and delicious cereal alternative is Living Intentions Superfood Cereal but you can probably find it cheaper at your local health food store. For some reason, the price on Amazon is higher than it should be.)
- pasta (there are tons of gluten-free options. I haven’t tried them all, but I like Tinkyada).
- beer (look for gluten-free ciders as a tasty summer alternative if you’re craving beer).
- commercial broth and bouillon, unless specifically labeled as gluten-free. I like Pacific’s Organic Gluten Free Chicken Stock.
- bottled salad dressings (I use olive oil and balsamic vinegar instead)
- anything containing wheat or wheat derivatives such as wheat germ
- most seasoning packets (these often also contain MSG)
- regular baking powder (instead, I use this brand)
- udon noodles (I LOVE Lotus Foods Rice Ramen Noodles)
- teriyaki sauce (try this gluten-free alternative)
- malt vinegar
- oats unless specified as gluten free, such as this one.
- TVP (textured vegetable protein)
- dextrin, modified food starch and other “thickeners”
- non-dairy creamers
- some mustard and ketchup brands (I like Trinity Hill Farms’ Ketchup)
- french fries
- imitation crab meat
- hot dogs, cold cuts and sausage
- soy sauce (I avoid soy, so I use this organic soy-free sauce)
- Worcestershire sauce (try Biona–it’s great!)
Remember, this is just a sampling of the “greatest hits” of foods with gluten. Do your research and stick with it for 2-3 weeks and see if your energy, digestion and mood improve. It really is worth trying–if you turn out to be gluten sensitive, you’ll be amazed at how good you feel when you get rid of gluten from your diet!
It will probably take 3-12 months for your body to heal from its exposure to gluten, and if you “re-expose” yourself by accident, you will need to recover. But if you’re careful, you’ll find your life will change for the better-more energy, less bloating, better sleep and fewer mood swings!