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Whether you have full-blown celiac disease or you're gluten intolerant, many people find avoiding gluten helps their health. But some people wind up wondering: What do I eat?

Gluten is the 'glue' in grains.  'Gluten' means 'glue' in Latin, and it's a mix of proteins in bread and other grain products that makes bread rise.  It's the gluten in pancakes that holds them together.  

But it's probably not all that good for us to eat glue.
Some individuals have a severe allergic reaction to gluten.  They have what's called celiac disease, and they need to avoid all forms of gluten.  Some people with really severe Celiac have to avoid rice too, even though there's no gluten in rice, sine it does contain some gluten-like protein.

Others have what's known as NCGS, which stands for Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance.  That means they don't have clinical Celiac disease.  If you want to tell them that means there's nothing wrong with them, though, be prepared for a litany of complaints that focus around abdominal discomfort but extend to nausea and dizziness, lethargy, depression and joint pain systemic inflammation and chronic weakness and even depression as well as pain in the digestive system.  

Rather than being an allergic reaction, as such, NCGS may be a result of a lack of digestive enzymes.

Compare the case of milk

Like all mammals, humans evolved to consume milk in childhood and then to stop consuming it.  

For most humans worldwide that's still the case; Asiatics, especially Chinese, are almost uniformaly lacking the enzyme required to digest milk, called lactase because it metabolizes lactose.  Lactase persistence is the genetically determined tendency to produce lactase into adulthood and it's most common in Western European populations and their descendants.  If you're non-lactase-persistent, your body won't be able to digest the lactose in milk and it will ferment inside you, leading to pain and discomfort.

We didn't evolve to consume gluten either.  

When the human race was evolving, we didn't eat gluten-containing foods much, and the reason is pretty easy to figure out.  Just take a look at the ancestral wild forms of our grain crops.  They're tiny, bitter and relatively sparse, and they take a large amount of processing. Why would people eat them when other, more nutritious foods were more easily available?  The evidence from modern hunter-gatherer groups suggests that even now they eat pretty much no gluten-containing grains.  Nuts, seeds, meat and fish are far more nutritious and available.

We started eating grains when we settled down and started farming, because they can be persuaded to be harvested at the same time.  Grains can be grown in fields, they're easy to plant, they're easy to store, and they're high in calories.  An ideal 'survival ration' food, in fact.  But none of those reasons has anything to do with being good for you.

The enzyme that's responsible for digesting gluten is totally different from the one that digests animal protein.  Animal protein is digested by pepsin; gluten is digested by transglutaminase, when it's digested at all.  It's been suggested that there's a genetic issue with transglutaminase production, and gluten intolerance does seem to run in families.

Eventually most people who suffer from something like this will simply stop eating foods with gluten in.  For sedentary people who are trying to lose weight, this can be a blessing in disguise:  gluten containing foods are high in calories, so cutting gluten from your diet can help you lose weight.  But if you're active it's a nightmare!

How can you replace the calories from gluten foods to fuel your athletic endeavours?

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