Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye and related wheat species such as spelt and kamut. It helps baked goods keep their form and chewy texture and is also added to other food items more and more, both for consistency and taste purposes.
Helpful Hint: Buckwheat, contrary to its name, is not actually wheat and does not contain gluten.
The obvious foods that contain gluten include foods made from a flour base. Wheat, barley, and rye based breads, cookies, pastries, and bagels all contain gluten. However, hidden sources of gluten are abundant in many packaged goods from soy sauce to spice mixes, to breath mints. More and more companies are voluntarily labeling their products as gluten free and some even go through a gluten free certification process.
For a full list of unsafe ingredients, click here:
Some people must eat a gluten free diet because they’ve been diagnosed with Celiac Disease or Gluten Sensitivity, in which the only cure is a gluten free diet. Others eat gluten free because they suspect gluten is causing them undesirable symptoms that they wish to avoid. Still others have learned that gluten can cause inflammation and therefore they seek to eliminate it from their diet. No matter what your situation, a gluten free lifestyle may be of benefit to you.
The short answer is: anyone. Some are more predisposed to have this disease or intolerance than others, especially if a family member has been diagnosed. It has been noted that northern European countries, specifically Nordic countries, as well as Italy and Ireland have a higher rate of Celiac Disease, and approximately 1 out of every 133 Americans have Celiac Disease.
Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder where gluten triggers the immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine. Over time, Celiac Disease can cause malabsorption, leading to a wide range of health problems such as iron and mineral deficiencies, osteoporosis, liver disease, infertility, neurological disorders, and even some forms of cancer.
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Those with a non-celiac gluten sensitivity do not experience any damage to the lining of the small intestine, unlike those with Celiac Disease, but rather can experience a broader range of reactions to gluten.
Many athletes find that they have fewer digestive issues during training and competition if they avoid gluten. Why is that? After a hard workout, people tend to experience some gastrointestinal distress. Athletes who have gone gluten free say that this distress is significantly lessened for them when on a gluten free diet, and disappears altogether when sugary drink intake is limited as well. Gluten is also a large cause of inflammation in the body, and so eliminating it will help reduce inflammation. This can help both digestion and athletic performance.
(By Danna Korn, Living Gluten Free for Dummies, 2nd Edition)
It would be great if you could just read a label and know what ingredients are in a product. Isn’t that the point of having ingredient listings? But unfortunately, labels aren’t always telling the entire story, and some ingredients aren’t consistent; sometimes they have gluten and sometimes they don’t.
A law called the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) that took effect in 2006 has helped – a lot. This law requires clear labeling of all foods that contain any of the top eight allergens – wheat, milk, eggs, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, and soybeans. This means manufacturers must clearly identify wheat and all of its derivatives on food labels.
With the law in place, knowing which foods are definitely off-limits because they contain wheat is much easier. Reading labels and knowing what’s in a product is much more definitive, because wheat is really the bulk of what you’re avoiding on a gluten-free diet.
Although wheat and its derivatives are now called out on all labels, you still need to watch for other gluten-containing grains (barley, rye, and cross-contaminated oats) and their derivatives, and realize that they can be hidden in flavorings and additives.
Malt usually comes from barley, and products that use malt as a flavoring don’t necessarily call it out on the label. Natural flavorings for instance, may contain barley malt but be listed as ‘natural flavorings’ on a label.
(By Danna Korn, Living Gluten Free for Dummies, 2nd edition)
Gluten has a couple of definitions; one is technically correct but not commonly used, and the other is commonly used but not technically correct. Here’s the common definition: Gluten is a mixture of proteins in wheat, rye, and barley. Oats don’t have gluten, but may be contaminated, so they’re forbidden on a strict gluten-free diet, too.
You can find lots of information about what you can and can’t eat on a gluten-free diet at www.celiac.com or other websites. But you need to have a general idea of what kinds of food have gluten in them so you know what to avoid. Foods with flour in them (white or wheat) are the most common culprits when you’re avoiding gluten. The following are obvious gluten-glomming foods:
But along with these culprits come not-so-obvious suspects too, like licorice, many (read ‘most’) cereals, and natural flavorings. When you’re gluten-free, you get used to reading labels, calling manufacturers, and digging a little deeper to know for sure what you can and can’t eat.
You have to do without these foods, but you really don’t have to do without. There’s a subtle but encouraging difference. Food manufacturers make delicious gluten-free versions of just about every food imaginable these days.