‘I can’t tolerate gluten in the US, but I can in Europe’: experts reveal the phenomenon

“I ate pasta every day on my trip to Italy, but I can’t eat anything when I’m home.”

“I can eat all the bread I want in France, but I get very bloated in the United States”

you probably have I heard a friend say these things, or perhaps you have experienced it yourself. Essentially, the story goes like this: Someone who generally adheres to a gluten-free or low-gluten diet says eating gluten-containing foods while at her home in the US while traveling in Europe without any symptoms.

Many believe this is because wheat grown in the US has higher gluten content and more herbicides are used in US wheat production.

But could this really be true? It’s hard to say, according to nutrition experts, and some believe it could be a placebo effect.

“Although people with gluten sensitivity may report no or fewer symptoms when eating European gluten products, there are enough variables in the mix that it’s not clear what’s at stake,” said Claire Baker, senior director of communications for Beyond celiac.

Here’s a look at some of the factors that may contribute to the idea that someone can safely eat pasta, bread, and pastries in Europe but not in the US.

First, why do some people have trouble eating gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains. More and more Americans are reporting gluten sensitivities and intolerances.

About 1% of the US population, although experts say the number is much higher, has Celiac Disease, which is an autoimmune disease that causes damage to the small intestine when someone eats gluten. For people with the disease, consuming gluten can cause malnutrition, infertility, and an increased risk of thyroid disease and other conditions.

“No one who has been diagnosed with celiac disease by a medical provider should eat gluten in any form, from anywhere,” Baker said. So if you have the disease, avoid gluten at all costs, even when you’re traveling.

However, not everyone who has problems with gluten has celiac disease. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) causes symptoms similar to celiac disease, including bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, headaches, and skin rashes, but eating gluten does not harm the intestines. Research it also suggests that the symptoms of some people suspected of having NCGS might not actually be caused by gluten.

People with NCGS should avoid gluten abroad, but it ultimately depends on the individual, Baker said. “Even with gluten sensitivity, while on vacation may not be the best time to test this theory, as being sick in your hotel room is probably not how you imagined your vacation.”

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Wheat grown in the United States is often high in gluten, as most of it is hard red wheat. Much of Europe’s wheat is a softer variety with less gluten.

Different types of flour contain different levels of gluten.

All wheat contains some level of gluten, but those levels vary depending on the type of wheat, said Alyssa Pike, senior manager of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council (IFIC).

“Wheat grown in the United States tends to have a higher gluten content, as most of it is hard red wheat, while soft wheat is grown in Europe which has a lower gluten content,” said Christina Meyer-Jax, chair of standard process nutrition and assistant professor at Northwest Health Sciences University.

But there’s no way to say for sure that the bread you eat in Europe is made strictly from common wheat. Both Europe and America grow different types of wheat, so some places in Europe grow durum wheat, Baker added. And, in 2021, 17.5% of US wheat exports went to Europe.

He added that the The incidence of celiac disease in Europe has been increasing at the same rate as in the US, and Europeans with the condition avoid gluten in their home countries.

Research also shows that the heated Where wheat is grown can affect its protein composition, said Tamika Sims, senior director of food technology communications at IFIC. Other studies show that baking techniques could potentially reduce gluten levels.

Chemicals may be more to blame than gluten

The digestibility of bread and other wheat products may not be related to gluten at all.

“Gluten-containing foods in the United States may also contain higher levels of chemicals (herbicides, additives, and preservatives) that can interfere with gut health and increase overall inflammation in the body compared to their European counterparts,” Meyer said. -Jax.

Glyphosate is an herbicide used on wheat and other products, and some scientists believe it is potentially linked to the increased reports of wheat products causing health problems. A to study found that “fish exposed to glyphosate develop digestive problems reminiscent of celiac disease.”

The World Health Organization has classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”, but the herbicide (the main ingredient in Roundup herbicide) is widely used in the US. It is also used in europe —although to a lesser degree than in the US But, many suspect that the The European Union could ban the herbicide early. Europe also imports wheat from around the world, which has probably been grown with glyphosate.

When you're eating pasta while on vacation in Italy, you'll likely go for a walk afterwards to help with digestion.

Cris Canton via Getty Images

When you’re eating pasta while on vacation in Italy, you’ll likely go for a walk afterwards to help with digestion.

Preservatives and other ingredients in wheat products could also play a role. Preservatives must be approved as safe for humans by the European Food Safety Authority or the US Food and Drug Administration, Sims stressed. But they might upset some people’s gut bacteria, Meyer-Jax said. This could cause diarrhea, constipation, bloating, rashes, headaches, and swelling, which could mimic a gluten intolerance.

How you are eating in Europe can play a role

Lifestyle factors can contribute to how you feel about eating gluten when traveling abroad. In Europe, you’re likely to eat fewer processed foods, smaller portions of gluten-containing products and more fresh foods, Meyer-Jax said.

“If someone who is used to more processed foods visits a bakery where most of the items are fresh instead of those from a grocery store or eats freshly made pasta with no additives or preservatives, there may be a different reaction,” he said. Baker.

Movement is another factor. You may end up walking through the museums or browsing the shops after eating when you visit Europe. Research shows that walking after meals can help with digestion, which could ease stomach aches or pains.

Stress can affect your gut and cause stomach problems as well. When he travels, he’s likely to have fun and feel less stressed, Meyer-Jax said. “Being relaxed can help your digestion feel much better with or without gluten.”

So, bottom line: Experts say there’s no definitive answer as to why you feel like you can tolerate gluten in Europe. Still, there are plenty of reasons why you might feel better when you eat bread and pasta. Maybe it has to do with gluten, maybe not.

“Being relaxed, eating fresh, unprocessed foods and walking more could help vacationers feel better overall and aid their digestion,” Baker said. “There could be a placebo effect.”

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