Gluten is a water-soluble protein that helps dough rise. It is found in wheat, barley, rye and oats that are not certified gluten-free (oats themselves are gluten-free grains, but unfortunately they get contaminated with wheat often when they are harvested). It is found in many products today from soup stocks to fillers for meats.
Does gluten really affect many people?
Yesterday I was reading in the magazing "Simply Gluten-Free" that about 1/3 of our population is gluten sensitive/intolerant. I believe this sensitivity comes from our genetics and also our large exposure to GMO grains and highly-processed gluten. When someone with an allergy eats gluten, it causes an inflammatory reaction in the body. With Celiac, this becomes much more serious because it is an autoimmune response. When one eats gluten, the body actually attacks its own digestive system. This can cause tiny holes in the intestines (leaky gut syndrome) where gluten particles and other food particles actually get into our blood stream and highly inflame our bodies. This is also why many people who have gluten allergies also have other allergies to weird foods we shouldn't be allergic to like apples; because the particle of that apple got into the blood stream by the hole created from the gluten. Now, this is usually a severe case for people with Celiac, but it still shows you the dangerous potency of gluten. It can also infect our internal body in other ways through acid reflux, drowsiness or fatigue, fogginess, and even abnormal menstruation. Another way that gluten wreaks havoc on some of our bodies is by flattening the tiny hairs lining our intestinal wall-- this leads to malapsorption of our nutrients. So when someone eats a really healthy meal with bread some of those nutrients won't get absorbed at all.
Should I go gluten-free?
As I stated above, it is very possible that you could have a sensitivity to it. I recommend cutting all gluten out for three weeks to see if you feel any different. Personally, when I cut it out I no longer had muscle soreness and the foginess in my brain went away. I have been gluten-free religiously for two years now and if I am ever accidentally "glutened" I can immediately feel the effects in my stomach. It gurgles uncomfortably for hours and gives me a food baby. I have been diagnosed with an allergy so the reaction I was getting makes sense.
Before you go gluten-free though to feel more energized, I do have a couple suggestions. Gluten-free can be healthy or unhealthy, depending on what you make it. You can eat just as much junk food being gluten-free if you just turned to the packaged/processed food aisle. If you look at the label for gluten-free pastries there is still sugar, carby flours, and highly processed oils. The healthiest way to go gluten free is to turn to more whole foods, placing a large emphasis on vegetables, legumes (preferably sprouted), fruit, grass-fed dairy (if tolerated), nuts, and extra-virgin oils (olive oil, avocado, and coconut are good sources). Also eating gluten-free grains are a great option, but should not become the bulk of one's diet because they are still carbohydrate-heavy. I recommend quinoa, brown rice, brown rice pasta, gluten-free oats, buckwheat, and wild rice. And if you are craving a dessert, don't go for the packaged food aisle. Try a piece of fruit or make your own dessert that way you can add in healthy oils, low-carb flours (coconut flour, for example) and sugars that break down more slowly in our digestive system than white sugar (honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar, for example).
If you want even more describing the adverse effects of gluten and how it can even be addicting, I suggest you read this article here, written by Mark Hyman a medical doctor.
Stephanie, I followed your directions and cut it out for three weeks. I didn't feel any different so I think my body tolerates grains. I am invested in eating "whole" sources of gluten. Do you have any suggestions?
Absolutely! Most gluten these days are genetically-modified so if you can, look for an organic bakery that uses only organic grains and makes bread with minimal ingredients (gluten, yeast, honey, etc.). Most breads are vegan too now which makes it really easy. I also highly suggest buying Ezekiel bread. It is made from sprouted grains, which break down the tough layer of the grain and make it easier on our digestive system. We are also then able to get some of the nutrients in the grains too. Also sourdough bread is a good choice because it is made through long fermentation of the dough using yeast and probiotics so it is easier to digest. Or if you are really motivated, you can even devote a couple hours each weekend to making a loaf of your own bread for the week so you can add in seeds, whole grains/legumes, and maybe even sprout it too! Whatever you end up choosing, make sure it is organic or sprouted so you get non-GMO grains and help support independent farmers. Good luck on your gluten journey!