WHAT IS GLUTEN?
Gluten, literally meaning “glue” in Latin, is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and related grains. It is what gives dough the elasticity.
WHAT HAS GLUTEN?
Grains that do contain gluten:
Wheat, barley, rye, kamut, spelt, semolina, durum flour, graham flour, triticale (a cross between wheat and rye)
Wheat, in various forms, is often used in products as fillers or preservatives. It can appear in salad dressings, soup mixes, French fries, gravies, lunch meat, sauces (including soy sauce), seasoned snack foods, candies, seasoned rice mixes, beer, modified food starch, maltodextrin (sometimes made from corn), malt flavoring, and ice cream. Even some medications can use gluten as a binding agent!
WHAT DOESN'T HAVE GLUTEN?
Foods that naturally do not contain gluten are:
- Corn, rice, tapioca, potatoes, arrowroot, beans, soy, quinoa, flax, buckwheat, amaranth, teff and millet
- Fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, fresh meats, fresh eggs
Most dairy products inherently should not have gluten, yet may contain fillers, preservatives or additional ingredients that may be a derivative of wheat or other gluten containing grains.
*Oats are a tricky one. Oats can be classified as gluten free because they do not contain gluten, but instead the protein avenins, which is considered non-toxic to gluten sensitive individuals. HOWEVER, many oats are processed on the same equipment as other gluten containing grains and may even be contaminated during the growing process. So, if one is following a gluten free diet, it is best to find certified gluten free oats.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I'M INTOLERANT?
Symptoms of gluten intolerance (or celiac disease) are:
- Abdominal bloating or pain
*There are many more sub categorical symptoms such as rashes, headaches or migraines or joint pain, depending on how one’s individual body chemistry reacts to allergens
When gluten causes a problem, it causes so much inflammation that the villi (little hairs) that absorb nutrients in the intestine to turn in. Eventually, this can lead to malnutrition and weight loss.
Some individuals do not have celiac disease (a disease characterized by an extreme intolerance to gluten that can eventually be fatal from malnutrition), but rather suffer from similar symptoms.
IS IT HEALTHY TO EAT GLUTEN FREE FOODS?
If you choose to go gluten free because you think it is healthier, there is some truth to that, yet it can also be very unhealthy, just depending on the foods you choose. It is just like any lifestyle change. Many of the gluten free items on the shelves are still processed, filled with high calorie wheat substitutes, and laden with sugar and preservatives. However, if you remove processed foods, and eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meat and eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes, it is an overall healthier lifestyle.
IS THERE A TEST AND WHAT ARE OTHER RESOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION?
There are blood tests available, even an endoscopy or biopsy that could help diagnose celiac disease. The easiest (relatively speaking) and least expensive way is to eliminate gluten for at least 30 days, and see if you feel better.
There is still much research to be done on gluten, celiac disease, and gluten intolerance. Some theories point to the increasing prevalence of gluten sensitivity to the fact that wheat has become more and more processed, grown from genetically altered seeds, and just not the same as ancient wheat.