If you are suffering from digestive ailments but aren’t sure what may be causing your discomfort, then you are like nearly 1 in 15 Americans who have a gluten or casein intolerance (or are more sensitive than normal to their effects). What are the symptoms of intolerance and how can we know if it’s something more serious? Before you consider any long-term treatment options for your gluten or casein intolerance, talk with your doctor about some of the choices you can make to improve your health.
Symptoms of a gluten intolerance:
It’s important to note that a sensitivity or an intolerance is not the same as celiac disease, which is an autoimmune that requires total elimination of gluten from the diet. When someone with Celiac disease consumes gluten, it sets off an immune system defense reaction that causes major damage to the small intestine. There are, however, a few symptoms you should look out for if you think you may have an intolerance or sensitivity.
- Mild gas, bloating, and occasional diarrhea
- Keratosis pelaris, or “chicken skin” that often shows up on the back of your arms. This tends be as a result of a fatty acid deficiency and vitamin A deficiency secondary to fat-malabsorption caused by gluten damaging the gut.
- Fatigue, brain fog or feeling tired after eating a meal that contains gluten.
- More serious intolerance, Celiac Disease
What is gluten?
There are two proteins that make up gluten, gliadin and glutenin, are the major causes of intolerance or sensitivity to gluten. With these proteins being in large polypeptide chains, it can be more difficult for the body to break it down during digestion.
We can recognize that a food item has gluten in it because most, if not all, of our bread and grain products contain gluten. It’s the protein that makes bagels soft and chewy and what keeps pasta in its shape. It is a key ingredient in the rise of bread, trapping the gasses during yeast fermentation while baking.
But what happens when we encounter foods that have hidden gluten? It is surprising to know the number of food items (and non-food items) contain hidden gluten. It can be hidden in foods such as ketchup, salad dressings, cold cuts, spices, candy, packaged gravy, hot dogs, canned soup, and potato chips.
What is casein intolerance?
Casein is the main protein found in dairy products, notably it is responsible for making cheese firm. It is similar in structure to gliadin, making it harder for some people to digest.
Casein, like gluten, can be sneaky. There are many foods that contain hidden casein: Chocolate, margarine, butter, caramel flavoring, deli meats cut with same slicer used for cheese, some brands of tuna, jelly beans, and fast food French fries.
Think about deli meats that are cut on the same slicer as cheese: not casein free!
Even jelly beans and some brands of tuna contain casein. That’s why it’s important to look at food ingredients closely when shopping for groceries.
Gluten and casein can sometimes be hard to avoid, but knowing what to look for when you are grocery shopping might help you avoid all the tummy troubles.
What do I do now?
Intolerance to gluten and casein is usually treated by removing those food items from the diet. It sounds easy enough, but with our mainstream diets and heavy reliance on breads and pastas, eliminating gluten completely can be quite a task. Gluten is often used as a binder or thickener for many processed foods, which make finding suitable replacements hard. Also, because a product says “lactose-free,” that does not always indicate that the product is also casein-free and good for casein intolerance.
But not impossible…
Learn to read the labels on your food
- “Gluten-Free:” While there is no formal standard for using this label, the food can be defined as gluten free if it contains less than 20ppm of gluten. So, while it may not be enough gluten to irritate a mild sensitivity, a person with celiac disease may suffer from gluten-intolerant symptoms.
- “Certified Gluten-Free:” These foods have been tested individually and awarded a certificate for being gluten free.
- Ingredients list: look at the ingredients for additives that may contain gluten
Taking an enzyme product that is formulated to assist in the digestion of gluten and casein may help. Taking a digestive enzyme supplement may alleviate the symptoms for people with gluten or casein sensitivities, but that doesn’t mean it is suitable for someone with Celiac disease. These enzymes don’t do all the work for you, they just assist the work your digestive system is already doing. This means is can take the edge off and reduce symptoms associated with the sensitivity. Enzymes do not take the place of eliminating gluten from you daily diet, but they can protect you from food that has been cross-contaminated with gluten or items that may contain smaller amounts of gluten.
Interestingly, digestive enzyme supplements help with more than just breaking down gluten and casein during digestion. They are also commonly used to relive gas, bloating, and even heartburn. Casein intolerance improves as well as sensitivities to lactose.
Limit processed foods regardless of gluten content.
Prepare more foods at home. While it’s easier to purchase packaged or prepared foods, it’s much more reliable to count on meals that you’ve made with your own hands. The hardest part will be avoiding wheat, and if you live with others who are not following a gluten free diet there are a few ways you can make adjustments in order to prevent cross-contamination:
- Separate condiment jars (e.g. jelly, mayo) to avoid sharing bread crumbs
- Gluten free bread toaster
- Cleaning countertops and utensils thoroughly
Searching for bread alternatives?
“Wheat-free” does not mean gluten-free, so be cautious of what the packaging says. If you are looking for an alternative to breads with you meals, you can always substitute rice or corn tortillas.
What about oats?
While oats themselves do not contain gluten, it’s cross-contamination that causes many oats to no be considered gluten-free. Many times during grain processing, farmers and manufacturers will rotate crops using the machines. For a few months it’s wheat, the next few months it’s barley and the oats processed afterward are no longer gluten free.
Our Lifestyle Educators and Nutritional Consultants at South River Compounding Pharmacy are experts on making dietary changes in order to change lives. If you are considering a dietary change due to gluten or casein intolerance, call us at (804) 879-6447 to schedule a consultation.