What is gluten, and how does it affect the body?

What exactly is gluten? Gluten is a protein; it is the sticky protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Well, aren’t all proteins good for the body, as they are the building blocks of the body? No, not exactly. Let’s break it down.

Where do we usually find gluten? processed and ultra-processed foods like breads, cakes, pasta, pizza, and beer. Gluten is almost always put together with carbohydrates to give a very desirable sticky mouthfeel. I am sure your mouth has already started watering with the thoughts of these foods, and rightfully so because they are designed as such.

Where is the problem then? The problem lies with the fact that this coexistence of gluten with carbohydrates presents a unique inflammatory challenge, impairing insulin sensitivity and predisposition to excessive weight gain and these impacts don’t just end in the digestive system.

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Another huge problem is, isn’t gluten everywhere? Well, with the entire world shifting from whole foods to highly processed ones for many reasons, while our bodies have not evolved to meet the digestive requirements of such foods we end up with an array of health issues like obesity, cardiovascular diseases and even Alzheimers’ disease (recent studies have shown) when we over-consume these kinds of unhealthy foods.

What is a regular person supposed to do about this then? I’m glad you asked, the first step is reading this article and being aware of the problem. The next step is putting the knowledge into action by consciously avoiding highly processed foods which is usually any food that has more than three (3) ingredients on the label.

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Have you ever seen an ingredient list on an apple or a potato? The final step is to ramp up on whole unprocessed foods with emphasis on dark leafy greens and red meat.

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Always have at the back of your mind that we still have the digestive system our ancestors had hundreds of years ago. They had to hunt and gather their food and mostly ate them fresh. They did not sit on couches, order and engorge their foods. Hence, we cannot realistically expect our unevolved system to cope with our suddenly too-evolved eating. Gluten was not present in almost everything they ate and definitely was not paired in nature with high levels of refined carbohydrates.

Thank you and have a mindful eating.

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This article was written by Mrs Samira Mohammed, a food science expert working at the Food and Drugs Authority in Ghana

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