What is Gluten and Where Can it be Found?
If you have been to the grocery store recently, you’ve likely noticed an increase of gluten-free (GF) labels on food products. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten functions as a glue that holds together your breads, baked goods, and pastas. Without gluten, your tasty slice of French bread would fall apart in your hands.
You might have dismissed the gluten-free movement as another health fad. However, the truth about gluten demands you pay closer attention.
Why Can Gluten be Bad?
In the human body, there are two primary adverse reactions that can result from the intake of gluten. These are Celiac Disease and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS).
Celiac Disease is an autoimmune reaction to the presence of gluten. The immune system attacks the small intestine. It destroys the villi, or finger-like structures for nutrient absorption. If left untreated, Celiac Disease can lead to malnutrition, cancer, weight loss, and damage to the small intestine. Celiac Disease is a genetic trait and is confirmed through blood-screening.
NCGS also causes abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, and other Celiac-like symptoms. However, in NCGS, the person’s body responds directly to the presence of gluten. Their body experiences an allergic reaction caused by an inability to digest the gluten. NCGS is a new condition which is still being debated by scientists, and no test exists to confirm it. As far as doctors know today, NCGS causes no permanent damage to the body.
If you ask most people what defines gluten-free, they will probably have a difficult time answering you. The trouble with gluten is that it appears in thousands of food products that are seemingly harmless. If you are going to remove gluten successfully from your life, you need to be aware of where gluten exists.
Wheat is by far the biggest gluten-offender. Wheat sneaks its way into many of your beloved processed foods. If you are like most people, wheat flour is a major part of your diet.
Luckily, there are many flour substitutes (ex. coconut flour). You must also be aware of wheat derivatives and variations. This includes wheat berries, emmer, semolina, spelt, durum, farina, Farro, graham, KAMUT® Khorasan wheat, and einkorn wheat. More conventional sources such as pasta, bread, baked goods, cereals, soups, sauces, and salad dressings can contain wheat as well.
You may consume more barley than you realize. Malt (including malted barley flour, malt syrup, malted milk and milkshakes, malt extract, malt flavoring, and malt vinegar), food coloring, beer, Brewer’s Yeast, and soups can all contain barley.
If you’ve done your research, you may be surprised to see oats on this list. And you’d be partially correct. Pure oats do not contain gluten, and can serve as a wonderful contribution to your gluten-free diet. However, oats are commonly grown alongside wheat, barley, and rye. This cross-contact can lead to gluten traces being found in oats.
To avoid a mishap, only purchase certified gluten-free oats, and consult your doctor as to the potential role of oats in your diet. You should also be aware that stomach pains can be caused by oats themselves, resulting from separate oat-sensitivity conditions.
Rye & Triticale
Rye may be found in bread, cereals, and beers. Triticale is a cross between wheat and rye. Watch out for this grain in breads, pastas, and cereals.
The truth about gluten is that there is no exhaustive list of gluten-containing foods. Celiac.org contains further advice on how to avoid gluten. To keep your body happy and healthy, a gluten-free diet will require you to do some homework. Do not eat foods simply because you assume them to be gluten-free.
Read nutrition facts, look for gluten-free labels, and be aware of possible cross-contact that can occur in food processing factories. Don’t be afraid to call the number on the box of a food product to inquire; that’s what it’s there for!
If the information you need regarding the ingredients or preparation of a food cannot be obtained, do not eat the food. Gluten-free specialists suggest that When in doubt, go without. Though it may be disappointing to refrain from eating a tasty snack, you will be thankful in the long run for protecting your health and well-being.
Overcoming Gluten-Related Pain
The good news is that gluten sensitivity awareness has grown exponentially over the past decade. GF food options are increasingly in availability. Gluten-free living might not be easy, but it is possible. Follow along with me on The Life Balance Tree to see how I cope with eliminating gluten, and together we can overcome the challenges of gluten-sensitivity.
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