It’s hard to ignore the gluten discussion that is all around us now. When you walk into the grocery store, and you’ll find whole sections of baked and assorted goods labeled as “gluten-free.” At your kids’ school, you may find that more and more of your kids’ classmates have to adopt a gluten-free diet. And perhaps you’ve heard friends or co-workers talking about cutting out gluten as part of a detox plan or to lose weight.

Gluten. GLUE-ten. Funny word, right? Was this a word that was part of our colloquial language even a decade ago? I think not. But it’s important that we discuss it, so you can be aware of what it is exactly and how it can affect you.

Many of the foods you may currently be eating contain gluten, which may be wreaking havoc on your body. Present in wheat, rye and barley, gluten is the grain protein that allows baked goods to bind and makes wheat-based dough sticky. Along with the aforementioned grains, gluten is present in many processed foods like soy sauce, malt, junk food, microwaved dinners and many others. Personal care products may also contain gluten, which can be absorbed into the body through the skin or inhaled through the lungs.

Should Humans Eat Gluten Grains?

Unfortunately, these proteins can cause a lot of detrimental issues for many people that consume them. Wheat, rye, and barley are all annual grasses that release seeds for a short time every year. These seeds contain chemicals within their glutens to protect them from rodent and insect consumption, helping the plants effectively reproduce during their short seeding season. This ensures the ongoing survival of the plant species. Unfortunately, these chemicals may be toxic to more than rodents and insects – they may also cause toxicity in human beings. A growing number of people exhibit signs of some form of gluten sensitivity. In fact, findings from a 2007 University of Valladolid Department of Pediatrics and Immunology study suggest gluten consumption causes a harmful effect in everyone who consumes it, regardless of whether they manifest signs of gluten intolerance.

Celiac Disease on the Rise

One of the most widely recognized forms of gluten sensitivity is celiac disease. Once believed to be a rare disorder, celiac disease is on the rise in the United States. Slightly less than 1 percent of the population has obtained an official diagnosis of celiac disease, although health authorities believe the percentage of people with the autoimmune disorder is higher due to a large, undiagnosed population. When someone with celiac disease ingests, absorbs, or inhales even trace amounts of gluten, they sustain damage to their small intestines.

With celiac disease, one’s body recognizes gluten as a foreign invader instead of as food. In response to the presence of gluten, the body attacks the villi of the small intestine, damaging the tiny finger-like projections that are essential in nutrient absorption. The result is malnutrition, stomach pain, bloating, flatulence, and a host of other symptoms. Untreated celiac disease can cause serious illness such as heart disease, certain cancers, thyroid disorders, and many others.

Internal Paste?

If you’ve ever done papier-mâché, then you already know just how sticky gluten really is. For those of you who may be a little less craft-oriented, papier-mâché is an art project where you cover balloons with strips of paper dipped in sticky paste. Once the paste dries and hardens, you have a solid sphere you can paint to look like all kinds of things. What you may not realize, however, is that most papier-mâché paste is made from a very simple combination of wheat flour and water. As the water evaporates, the “glue” hardens, thanks largely to the gluten contained in the wheat flour. Imagine that inside of your body, and it’s easy to see how easily gluten can “gunk” up your insides – even if you aren’t one of the millions of people diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Avoiding Gluten

Fortunately, gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are 100 percent reversible merely by avoiding gluten in all of its forms. While the solution sounds easy, however, if you eat processed foods or use beauty products with a long list of hard to pronounce ingredients, it may be very difficult to avoid. If you eat a more natural, fresh plant foods-based diet, however, then gluten is less likely to be a problem. It is important to note, however, that even trace amounts of gluten are not okay for those people with any form of gluten sensitivity. Because of this, people with celiac disease and other forms of gluten sensitivity have to become label sleuths, learning to recognize the various names for ingredients that contain glutens.

Assessing Grains

Still, whole grains are an important part of the diet, providing beneficial fiber and nutrients your body needs. You’ll find I recommend certain grains in The Beauty Detox Solution; however, when you eat grains it is important to know exactly what it is you are getting.

As I mentioned previously, if you’re concerned about gluten (and I believe everyone should be), then you absolutely must avoid rye, barley, all kinds of wheat (whole wheat, graham, cracked wheat, wheat flour, white or wheat pasta, couscous, kanut, eikhorn, and many others), and some oats. While oats do not naturally contain gluten, many oat products are contaminated in processing. The best way to avoid getting gluten with your oats is to find the most minimally processed form of them available – oat groats. That’s why I use oat groats in recipes, especially for the Blossoming Beauty Phase of the Beauty Detox.

Reading Labels

The best way to ensure you avoid gluten is understanding what labels mean. For example, you may find products labeled whole wheat, whole grain, or multi-grain. What, exactly, do each of these designations mean?

Whole Wheat

It is exactly as it sounds. The product contains all parts of the wheat, including the endosperm, germ, and brand. According to the FDA, in order to obtain a whole wheat listing, the product must contain all of these components in the same ratios that naturally occur in a grain of wheat. While whole wheat does contain beneficial fiber and nutrients, however, it also contains gluten and is best avoided. It can be replaced, such as by using brown rice or quinoa pasta instead of whole wheat pasta.

Whole Grain

Products may or may not contain wheat, so a careful reading of the label is required. FDA labeling laws for whole grain are the same as whole wheat: the product must contain all parts of the grain in the same proportions found in nature.

Multi-Grain

Sounds quite healthy, but when you see this on the label all you know for sure is that the food contains more than one type of grain. The grains may be in whole form, or they may be refined. Reading package labeling can help you define exactly what the multi-grain label means.

Grains to Eat

I recommend eating healthful, whole grains that do not contain gluten. Whole grains have minimal processing and provide better fiber and nutrition than their more refined counterparts. Along with oat groats, I love the following non-gluten grains:

  • Brown rice
  • Amaranth
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat (which is completely different than wheat and does not contain gluten)

I also recommend soaking grains overnight in order to remove phytic acid and make them more digestible.

Intestinal Healing

If you have been eating gluten grains your whole life, all is not lost. Once you begin avoiding them, you can further facilitate healing by rebuilding good intestinal flora. I recommend daily probiotics  and regular consumption of my Probiotic & Enzyme Salad. It may take as long as a year or two without any gluten in the diet for your intestines to fully heal from the damage, but following The Beauty Detox Solution diet will definitely help and put you on the right path.

New York Times Bestselling Author, Nutritionist, Wellness and Beauty Expert