Why is gluten hard to digest?

Humans haven’t always consumed gluten. One of the tenets of the Paleolithic diet is that the human body is not well-designed to digest grains, since grains were introduced to our diet very recently, evolutionarily speaking.

While humans -- and our digestive systems -- have been millions of years in the making, most grains became a staple food for us only within the last 10,000 years with the advent of agriculture. Back then increasing population densities in many parts of Europe, Africa and Asia forced an abrupt shift from the nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle to more geographically stable populations that depended on agriculture for survival.
The advent of civilization saw the domestication of livestock and the introduction of dairy foods, as well as the cultivation of legumes and cereal grains like rice, oats and wheat. But when cereal grains became a dietary staple, humans lost nearly a foot in height, a significant chunk of our life expectancy and 10% of our brain volume -- the latter of which we’ve never recovered.

The glue-like texture of gluten helps foods keep their shape. The consistency of gluten is extremely palatable to humans, making for chewier wheat products such as bagels, bread and pizza dough. By contrast, most gluten-free products (including wheat-based products with the gluten protein removed) are much drier and crunchier. Unfortunately, the consistency and chemical structure of these foods tend to resist breakdown after you eat them. This puts your digestive system out of whack to the point where your GI system starts cannibalizing itself, which begins to affect the nutrient content of even non-gluten foods.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.