Wheat and Gluten Digestion: Overview & Natural Approaches

A growing number of people are beginning to eat gluten or wheat-free diets. Some do so because of sensitivities to these ingredients, while others do so because they've heard that these ingredients aren't necessarily beneficial for the human gut.

To better understand such a choice, it helps to know a little more about wheat. Today's hybridized wheat varieties—as used in most breads and pastas—are known for a high level of gluten. Gluten is a protein that is responsible for the "stickiness" of bread dough. It helps bread hold together, which makes high levels of gluten desirable for commercially manufactured breads; the bread holds up better during processing, slicing, and packaging. Gluten-free bread products are, conversely, known for being a little dry or crumbly.

In the human GI tract, gluten is usually poorly digested. Even healthy individuals can experience some irritation in the gut lining from eating a gluten-rich diet. Combine that with the fact that gluten and wheat products are often highly refined and processed (empty carbs), and you can see why some health-conscious individuals decide to go wheat-free or gluten-free.

This is not an easy lifestyle choice though. Going wheat-free means being more mindful about getting enough daily fiber from other sources or supplements. It also makes grocery shopping and eating out more challenging. Wheat, or gluten extracted from wheat, is often found in trace amounts in everything from sauces and soups to deli meats and oats. Ingredient lists that contain vague terms like "spices" or "natural flavors" often indicate the presence of trace amounts of wheat or gluten.

Eating 100% gluten-free or wheat-free is a commitment to eating whole foods, cooking with fresh individual ingredients, and scrutinizing the labels of packaged food products. That's not a bad thing; it usually translates into eating very healthy. But, for those moments when you're eating at a friend's house or restaurant, it can be helpful to have a back-up plan. Digestive Enzyme Supplements can support healthy digestion of trace amounts of gluten and wheat.

Note: Some individuals should not expose themselves to even trace mounts of wheat or gluten. Speak with your healthcare provider before using digestive enzyme supplements and/or re-introducing gluten or wheat ingredients into your diet.