While necessary for those with certain health conditions such as celiac disease, cancer patients should not have to avoid gluten. In fact, some foods containing gluten offer health properties that can be beneficial for cancer prevention and survivorship.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and hybrids such as triticale, a cross between wheat and rye. These proteins are commonly found in bread, pasta, cereals, dumplings, cookies, cakes, etc. However, gluten is also found in sources that aren’t as obvious including some sauces, salad dressings, and even toothpaste.
Reading nutrition labels and ingredients is the most foolproof method to assure a product is gluten-free. This is especially important for people living with celiac disease since the elimination of gluten is crucial. For these individuals, even the smallest amount of gluten cannot be tolerated and can cause damage to the lining of the small intestine. Such damage can hinder the absorption of nutrients from food, cause a multitude of symptoms, and lead to other health problems.
For those without celiac disease, whole-grain foods containing gluten can be good sources of vitamin B-6 and antioxidant phytochemicals that can be cancer-protective. They are also are good sources of magnesium, thiamin, niacin, and fiber, which can help protect us from colorectal cancer and other chronic diseases.
The consumption of gluten only poses a threat of increased cancer rates to people with celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease which means that a person’s immune system views their body as a foreign substance and attacks it. In people who have celiac disease, this is especially concentrated in the lining of the lower GI tract.
For people who are diagnosed later in life, they may have had a prolonged hyperactive immune system putting them at a greater risk of developing certain types of cancers. The three types of cancer associated with celiac disease are enteropathy-associated T-cell lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and adenocarcinoma of the small intestine.
However, the development of any of these cancers due to celiac disease is rare. The risk becomes even lower when following a strict gluten-free diet that promotes intestinal healing.
If you need to follow a gluten-free diet, there are many alternative grains and starches including potatoes, rice, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, beans, and lentils. You can also find many of these options in pasta form. Spaghetti squash is also a fantastic gluten-free substitute to regular pasta and is packed with vitamins.
If looking to feed your sweet tooth, try our Caramelized Apple Almond Cake with Ginger which uses almond flour, which is naturally gluten-free and contains many of the nutritional benefits of whole almonds.