Some people who avoid gluten in the US report being able to eat pasta and bread in Europe without the same issues. What’s going on?
A recent article unpacked some of the reasons why Americans traveling in Europe are able to eat gluten abroad, but not in the US. Experts don’t know for sure, but possibilities include differences in the type of wheat used, a higher presence of chemicals in US foods, and lifestyle factors when you’re travelling.
Between 1-5 percent of Americans have Celiac disease, but it often goes undiagnosed because people do not have obvious symptoms. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that causes damage to the small intestines when someone eats gluten. It can lead to several serious health issues. A large study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people with diagnosed, undiagnosed, and “latent” celiac disease or gluten sensitivity had a higher risk of death, mostly from heart disease and cancer. Many more Americans—as many as 30–40% of the US population, according to the research of a leading US laboratory working in the field—have gluten sensitivity (also called Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance), which means that they, too, are sickened by gluten. It is also sometimes referred to as “silent” celiac disease, as the disease may remain latent for twenty years or more before becoming full-blown celiac disease if gluten consumption is continued.
People with Celiac disease should not eat gluten, period. But people who have gluten sensitivities in the US are sometimes able to eat gluten when travelling in Europe without any issues. This could be due to a few different factors. For one, gluten content varies depending on the type of wheat being used. Wheat grown in the US is predominantly hard red wheat, which has a higher gluten content than the soft wheat grown in Europe.
Europe has also banned many chemicals that are used in the US food supply such as: potassium bromate, red dye no. 40, yellow dyes no. 5 and 6, chlorine-washed poultry, rGBH or rBST growth hormones used in cows, genetically modified fruits and vegetables, BPA, and others. Glyphosate, for example is used far more in the US than in Europe, and is even sprayed on wheat and other crops prior to harvest. One study found that “fish exposed to glyphosate develop digestive problems that are reminiscent of celiac disease.” Other food additives that are used in the US but banned in Europe could be disrupting the gut microbiota and leading to digestive issues that do not present when eating food that is not as chock-full of chemicals.
Finally, lifestyle factors could be contributing to better digestion when traveling abroad. On vacation, you are likely eating fewer processed foods and more fresh foods. If you used to eat preservative-laden, factory-made bread at home, and then eat fresh-baked bread from a French bakery, you might digest the fresh bread better even if you have a gluten sensitivity. Stress can also disrupt gut health, so a stress-relieving vacation could improve stress and digestion. You’re also probably getting more exercise on vacation, which also aids digestion.
The staggering amount of chemicals in our food—chemicals that have been banned by other countries—should be a wakeup call. In 2016, US farmers used 322 million pounds of pesticides that are banned in the EU, 40 million pounds of pesticides banned or being phased out in China, and 26 million pounds of pesticides banned or being phased out in Brazil. It’s not just food: the EU has banned or restricted 13,000 chemicals used in cosmetics; the US has banned or restricted just 11.
It’s hard to stay healthy, naturally, when we are bombarded with dangerous chemicals in our food, cosmetics, cookware, water, and air. This speaks to the power of the chemical industry in influencing chemical regulation across many sectors of the US economy. Until this cronyism changes, you may have to wait to save indulgences in pasta and baguettes for vacation.
3 thoughts on “Why Can I Eat Bread in Europe, But Not at Home?”
Those are all important points but there are other factors at play. As a fourth generation son of Kansas wheat farmers who developed gluten sensitivity in the early 80’s after the following new varieties were introduced, I did some research.
During the late 50’s and early 60’s the Rockefeller Foundation funded Norman Borlaug to develop hybrid wheat that performed well on chemical fertilizers, produced bigger crops and grew in a more uniform height to make it easier for modern combines to harvest. The Rockefeller’s succeeded in taking the world off the thousands of diverse varieties of wheat being grown prior to that work and narrowing them down to the few varieties Borlaug developed. This was well before genetic modification, so Borlaug used highly toxic chemicals to induce mutation in wheat seed in the hopes of forcing mutants to arise with traits he was looking for. These were then bred into the gene pool of wild (non-edible) and other varieties of wheat from around the world.
Nutrition was never on the radar. Consequently, gluten content in the final products was 500% higher than the old varieties .
This work made Borlaug known around the world as the father of the (not so) green revolution – better farming through chemicals. By the 80’s celiac disease was showing up everywhere. The rest is history.
In 2005 I was diagnosed with high cholesterol. I started out on 10 mil of Lipitor and by around 2008 was up to 80 ml. Within a week of starting the prescription I started getting migraines. Even ended up in the ER one evening due to the pain being so bad I was vomiting. Within a month month I started getting a yeasty smelling , burning itchy rash where I sweat. In 2008 my daughter found out that she and some of her children have celiac. Her Gastroenteroligist told me what I should be tested for to see if I had it. When I went back to my internist she refused to give me the order for it. I had a loud argument with her and told her it was my choice and money and if she didn’t give me the order I would find another dr. Before I took the test I stopped taking the Lipitor and stopped eating gluten. The headaches went away and so did the rash. When I told her during my next visit what I had done and the effects she said “I never would have guessed it was the Lipitor” Years of migraines that she knew about and she had no idea that the Lipitor was causing them, neither did the ER dr or an ENT I went to. When she said that it was my last visit and I have not been to any dr for a checkup ever since. I am 72 years old and am done. Also In the mid 60s my father was diagnosed with high cholesterol and given a statin. Within a few years he had dementia. When he passed away at age 80 the coroner said he had Karsikoff syndrome which is caused by a lack of vitamin b to the brain. I believe he had full blown celiac which was triggered by the statin.
It’s interesting that Europe and other countries care more for their people than the U.S. When agri-business becomes more important than people, it’s time to reassess our country’s priorities. The U.S. is putting big business profits ahead of the health of its people, as well as the health of livestock, plant life, like wheat and other edible plants and sea life as well. Similar to Big Pharma, caring more about profits and market share than the well being of the nation. Most of the drugs our doctors prescribe have side effects, because most are not sourced from nature. Some are in fact more dangerous than helpful. That should be stopped, but who will do it, when so many only care about profits? When a nation is so dumbed down, also purposely, people are ignorant and in the dark for how they are being sacrificed for money. Another huge problem, the land has been raped rather than enriched as it should always be. Artificial fertilizers are no substitute for natural fertilizer. The people in charge, don’t care. They are wealthy and can afford organic, wild sources for their food. We have gone so long in this damaging direction, I have little hope we will flourish in the future as long as these unhealthy methods are used. Our Dept. of Agriculture needs to be changed for the better, with higher standards and requirements. But it’s like the domino effect, government has to be helpful to farmers, rather than harassing them with death taxes and regulations. Chemical fertilizers must be banned and humane care of animals should be mandatory. There must be oversight for this. It’s time our country, cared about its people instead of only considering and acquiring profits.