By now, we’ve all heard of a “gluten-free diet”, but what exactly is gluten and should seniors really consider removing it from their diet?
Gluten comes from two specific proteins, gliadin and glutenin. They are found in cereal grains such as wheat, spelt, rye, barley and in some cases oats. In the case of oats, it depends on the method of processing.
It’s gliadin that causes some people to have adverse reactions. There are three types of gliadin (α, γ, and ω) to which the human body is intolerant to varying degrees. Adverse reactions can be quite severe, especially if you have a condition known as Celiac disease.
People with Celiac disease are highly sensitive (allergic) to gluten. For those who suffer the protein causes mild to severe degeneration of the intestine wall. This leads to various forms of digestive issues, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), bloating, fatigue and nutrient deficiency.
Although grains containing gluten have been part of our diet for thousands of years, new knowledge of the adverse reactions are causing many people to switch to eliminate gluten from their daily diet.
The Health Risks of Gluten for Seniors
Celiac disease is a serious condition caused by gluten. Although only 1% of the population is affected, it is believed to be more common in people ages 50 and up. For these people, gluten has serious health consequences.
With age, our body’s immune system weakens and slows down. For celiac sufferers, gluten degenerates the lining of the intestines. For seniors, this means:
- When the the barrier system of the intestinal wall is compromised, it is at risk of transferring unwanted substances and toxins into the bloodstream.
- A study has shown that gluten can have severe effects on the brain. In some seniors, it can cause a neurological disorder that leaves them unable to balance, move or speak.
- Due to nutritional deficiencies, the rate of bone loss is accelerated in some seniors. They suffer the inability to absorb essential nutrients and weight loss occurs.
Ways to Avoid Gluten
Choosing a gluten-free diet means a complete change of eating habits. This can be challenging because gluten is found in many foods, drinks and medicines. It’s also common in products we use such as moisturizers, lipstick, etc.
If you you have an intolerance to gluten, and want to remain symptom-free, you’ll need to follow a gluten-free meal and product plan for the rest of your life. Here’s what you can do to avoid any mishaps:
- Read product labels when shopping. They should have a clear Gluten-Free label.
- Beware of cross-contamination that can happen during production. There should be a warning on the label that tells you of the traces that may be on the product.
- Always ask your pharmacist. They should be able to advise you where your medication is concerned.
- When you eat out, be sure to ask if the meal is gluten free. Many restaurants are aware of the growing demand and most make the proper arrangements for it.
The Health Benefits of a Gluten Free Diet
No one likes to be told what to do, especially if it means being limited to certain things that make life seem normal. And, the older we get the more difficult it is to change our habits. However, what we eat matters to our good health. So, for a healthy, pain-free life, a gluten-free diet is worth the sacrifice.
While going gluten-free means doing without some goodies, it doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t enjoy ourselves. We simply must learn to adjust. The health and physical benefits are many, including freedom from gastrointestinal disorders and more energy.
The bottom line on health benefits is this. Replacing bread and other gluten-filled carbohydrates with more fruits and vegetables helps us maintain a more optimal body weight. That’s a very good thing if it helps us avoid diabetes and the many adverse health conditions that come with it.
Gluten-Free Meal Choices
There are many beneficial gluten-free meals that are healthy and balanced. Look for all-natural and organic products and ingredients. Beware of artificial additives such as chemical preservatives.
There many ways you can bake gluten-free, egg-free and dairy-free breads and pastries. Some of the breads you can consume include:
- Rice Almond Bread
- Yeast free brown rice bread
- Millet bread
- Multi-seed English Bread
Cutting wheat does not mean you need to remove all starches. In fact, you can enjoy a well-balanced meals with potatoes, rice, amaranth, legumes, quinoa, nuts, buckwheat, bean flour, arrowroot and uncontaminated oats. Select gluten-free pasta and baking flour, which are readily available in local health-food stores and many grocery stores.
You can also enjoy healthy meals with fresh meat, chicken, and fish. Simply avoid marinating, battering or breading with anything containing wheat flour.
Fruits and vegetables are important, too. The more you can replace breads and snacks with fruits and vegetables, the more your health will benefit.
Initially it might seem challenging to adjust to a restrictive diet. But with a well-balanced gluten-free diet, you will be laughing all the way to the healthy lifestyle bank. It’s an investment well-worth the effort.