Food allergies have been on the rise in recent decades, affecting only 1% of people in 1970 but 7% today. Nowadays, the main causes of such allergies are food processing and changes in eating habits. Since Sani Marc works in the field of cleaning and sanitizing of food and beverage plants, we decided to take a look at gluten, a protein found in most processed foods.
What is Gluten ?
Gluten is a protein found in most grains such as wheat, rye, triticale and barley. In the case of wheat, gluten makes up 80% of all the protein it contains. The main characteristic of gluten is its elasticity. This explains why gluten is so widely used in processed foods like bread, pasta and pastries: It gives these foods a soft chewy texture, and it “holds” them together.
Gluten has long been recognized as a major allergen that provokes an immune response in the small intestine. Consuming this protein on a daily basis causes a chronic inflammatory reaction that can lead to lesions in the intestinal tissue.
Gluten Intolerance vs. Celiac Disease
Gluten intolerance is not the same as celiac disease. The two are in fact very different. Gluten intolerance has a number of digestive symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, etc. When consumed in small quantities and not too often, gluten causes inflammation in the small intestine.
Celiac disease is more than just an intolerance; it is a type of food allergy. Ingesting gluten protein triggers an abnormal immune response. In other words, it damages the intestinal wall and eventually lead to villous atrophy. This reaction reduces the intestinal wall’s ability to absorb the nutrients in food.
The risk of developing celiac disease is partly hereditary. Those who have a parent with celiac disease are 20 times more likely to develop it as well. Celiac disease might also be caused by environmental factors (intestinal infections, trauma or anxiety) as well as by intestinal permeability (leaky gut) among certain people. A correlation has been found between individuals who have more permeable intestines, which allow gluten to penetrate the intestinal wall, and those diagnosed with celiac disease.
330,000 Canadians have celiac disease
73,000 of them are children
150 millions de dollars dollars are spent each year by Canadian families who must eat certified gluten-free food
Almost 30 % of celiac disease patients who do not follow an appropriate diet may develop a malignant tumour
2,5 millions de dollars dollars are spent each year in healthcare on research and patient care
Identifying and Treating Celiac Disease
The list of symptoms associated with celiac disease is staggering. The most common symptoms include anemia, (which disappears upon eliminating gluten from the diet), chronic diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, cramps and bloating, irritability, etc. However, the intensity of symptoms may vary greatly from one person to the next. Some people have no noticeable symptoms at all.
People with celiac disease may develop other complications that are not necessarily linked to the affected intestine like the ones listed above. Neuropathy, observable by numbness or even pain in the extremities, is one such complication. Others include infertility, arthritis, certain types of cancer, lactose intolerance and dermatitis herpetiformis: a type of skin condition accompanied by an itching, burning and blistering rash.
In Canada, it takes an average of 12 years to diagnose a patient with celiac disease, and no medical treatment currently exists. Because it is a food allergy, the best remedy is to adhere to a gluten-free diet for life. Consulting a professional dietitian is recommended..
For food to be labelled gluten-free, it cannot contain more than 200 parts per million (ppm) of gluten protein fractions. However, the Quebec celiac disease foundation (FQMC) advises caution with this gluten-free certification. Currently, there is no accredited program in Canada for certifying whether the methods used for processing and packaging these products are exposed to gluten themselves. Proposed legislation is currently being drafted to standardize gluten-free labelling.
Today’s processed and packaged foods often contain hidden sources of gluten that can be accidentally ingested. It is important to pay particular attention to canned meats, fruit yogurts, tomato sauces, sausages and many other food items. Gluten may hide behind many different names in the list of ingredients, such as: malt, starch (from wheat, barley, rye, etc.), seitan, hydrolyzed vegetable protein and texturized vegetable protein.