Listen, it’s no secret that we Italians love gluten. Well, maybe not directly, but we certainly like cooking meals with loads of gluten in them. However, this traditional Italian-American diet is quite painful and physically harmful for individuals living with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. To ensure you address the needs of all your family members, here is everything you need to know about this health condition!
What Is Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity?
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a health condition entailing adverse reactions to gluten, a protein present in wheat, barley, and rye. Though we don’t fully understand the causes of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, genetic, environmental, and immunological factors likely influence it. People with a family history of gluten-related disorders, such as celiac disease or wheat allergy, are at higher risk for developing gluten sensitivity. Those with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or type 1 diabetes may also have an increased risk.
Regardless of how they get it, individuals with gluten sensitivity become inflamed when gluten proteins enter their bodies. This creates an immune system response that leaves the individual feeling physically ill. Other symptoms can vary but commonly include gastrointestinal issues, like bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation. In addition, individuals may experience migraines, fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, and skin problems. Diagnosing this condition involves a comprehensive review of medical history, eliminating celiac disease and wheat allergy through testing, and undergoing a gluten challenge.
Gluten Sensitivity vs. Celiac Disease
Individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity and celiac disease both require diets with gluten-free alternative foods, yet there are significant differences between these two health conditions. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the small intestine upon gluten ingestion, leading to damage and nutrient malabsorption.
Conversely, non-celiac gluten sensitivity does not involve such an autoimmune response or damage to the gut lining. Instead, it is a reaction to gluten that leads to similar gastrointestinal symptoms. Additionally, while a strict gluten-free diet is the only known treatment for both conditions, individuals with celiac disease must adhere to this diet for life to prevent serious complications.
Treatments for Gluten Sensitivity
The conventional approach to managing non-celiac gluten sensitivity places a strong emphasis on dietary modifications. A gluten-free diet is the cornerstone of this approach. Individuals with this condition must avoid foods containing wheat, barley, and rye, as these contain the gluten protein that triggers their symptoms. Thankfully, there are plenty of replacement foods sensitive individuals can include in their diets that eliminate gluten but retain amazing flavors! For example, fans of piadina can use gluten-free tortillas as an alternative to flatbread. Gluten-free tortillas differ from flour tortillas but taste almost identical and are ideal for various gluten-free meals. There are also many gluten-free options available for various pastas, such as chickpea-based noodles.
Alongside dietary changes, probiotics often form a part of the treatment plan. These beneficial bacteria help restore gut health, which can be compromised in individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Partnering with a dietitian or nutritionist can make this journey easier by providing expert guidance on maintaining a balanced and nutritious gluten-free diet. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements, known for their anti-inflammatory properties, can help manage the inflammatory symptoms of this condition. Furthermore, nausea-suppressing herbs like ginger can relieve digestive discomforts that gluten-sensitive individuals commonly experience.
Now that you understand what you need to know about non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you can cater to the needs of all your family members. And thankfully, there are plenty of gluten-free meals your Italian-American family is sure to enjoy!