Gluten-free has become a common term, which you might see proudly displayed on various products, mentioned or featured in numerous articles and books, and pointed out regularly in recipes containing gluten-free ingredients. So, what is this gluten that everyone is talking about, and should you give it up?
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.
Someone with celiac disease can not tolerate gluten, sometimes causing them to have stomach cramps, diarrhea, and bloating. It can even damage their small intestine, which can cause nutritional deficiencies. If untreated, the disease my lead to the development of intestinal cancers, osteoporosis, diabetes, thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, infertility, a skin disease known as dermatitis herpetiformis, and other diseases. It’s possible to not have celiac disease and still have gluten sensitivity with similar celiac symptoms, other than it damaging the intestine. You can read Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic (revised and updated addition) by Peter H.R., M.D. Green.
Since eating gluten-free is a treatment for celiac disease and those with gluten sensitivity, many foods without gluten have been marketed in ways that almost suggest that their products are a cure-all. It’s possible that a gluten-free diet can cure migraines, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and other diseases, but it might not. You might also loose weight on the diet, or not since gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean fat-free.
Should You Give Up Gluten?
The answer is probably yes, if you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity or it’s suggested by your doctor for whatever good reason. Otherwise it may not be necessary, but you can do so if you want. Just know that it takes some investigation to give up gluten, because it is in many of the foods we eat; cutting out bread isn’t enough where gluten might be present in salad dressing, soy sauce, seasonings and more. In fact, if you give up gluten you may also be giving up the nutrients found in some of the foods that contain gluten. If on a gluten-free diet, ask your doctor what multi-vitamin or supplements you should be taking.
How to Give Up Gluten
If you plan on giving up gluten, your fist step is to know which foods have it and which foods don’t.
Grains With Gluten
Most of us eat gluten because it’s in some of our favorite foods, such as berate, pasta, pizza, various sauces, and even certain soups. Grains with gluten include:
• Wheat germ
• barley malt
Grains Without Gluten
The good news, for those planning to give up gluten, is that there are plenty of grains without it, such as:
• wild rice
Unfortunately, it is possible for gluten-free grains to contain gluten due to cross contamination, where by grains that are gluten-free are unintentionally mixed with grains containing gluten. This can happen when gluten-free grains are processed in the same facility as grains containing gluten. In a restaurant, or even in your own kitchen, the same utensils that touch a pot, jar, can, or dish that contains gluten may then touch another pot, jar, can or dish that doesn’t contain gluten, and cause contamination. For this reason, those eliminating gluten from their diets should only choose certified gluten-free foods, and not assume that their food was prepared in a gluten-free environment.
No matter how hard you try, you will at times eat foods contaminated with gluten, because it may be difficult to determine. For example, citric acid made with corn is gluten-free, but citric acid made with wheat is not. The thing to do is not panic if you suspect that you’ve just eaten something containing gluten. In fact, it hasn’t even been determined whether or not health is effected by a minuscule amount of gluten that a conscientious person ingests. Some common ingredients that might contain hidden gluten are:
• brewer’s yeast, unless found in gluten-free supplements
• dextrin made from wheat
• flavoring and extracts that contain barley malt
• malt, other than malt made from corn
• maltodextrin made from wheat
• some seasoning mixes
• soy sauce fermented from wheat
• modified food starch could be from wheat
• vinegar is safe unless it is malt vinegar
Always read labels. Look for a gluten-free certified seal of approval, and if in doubt either go without any food product that you’re not sure about, or contact the manufacture and ask if it’s gluten-free and produced in a gluten-free facility. Plus, check with your doctor or pharmacist about the medicines or supplements that you are taking, because some may contain gluten.
At a gluten-free lifestyle seminar held by the Lemire Clinic in Ocala Florida, I walked away with a wealth of information, including a long list of terms for hidden gluten that you might see on some food labels. Several of the terms on the list were totally foreign to me, such as Triticum Aestivum, which I learned is simply common wheat, Hordeum Vulgare, which is barley, and Fu, which is dried wheat gluten — just to name a few. But, rather than memorize a long list, it was suggested that we simply use the list as a reminder that there is hidden gluten out there, and to buy only what has recognizable ingredients. Or better yet, shop for fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, dry beans and other foods that are not found in a box or can.
Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows foods with less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten to be labeled “gluten-free.” Gluten Intolerance organizations test for less gluten than this, and provide a seal of approval to manufactures who meet their standards. Each organization has their own seal, but all enable gluten-free consumers to quickly identify certified gluten-free products. Some of the foods tested have no traces of gluten, but are tested for less than 10 ppm by both the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA). The Celiac Sprue Association (CSA) test foods for less than 5 ppm of gluten. The GFCO Seal of Approval (left).
Eating gluten-free takes some getting used to. If you feel overwhelmed by this diet change seek the expert advice of a nutritionist, dietitian, or support group counselor. Parents who have children on a gluten-free diet may need such support to help their children steer clear of gluten in the school lunchroom and at parties. And shopping at a whole-foods market – where they provide gluten-free foods and understand your dietary concerns – can make your gluten-free shopping easier.
Women’s Health Magazine: Is Gluten Bad for You? by Karen Ansel, R.D. (http://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/gluten-free-diet).
About.com Celiac Disease & Gluten Sensitifity: Certified Gluten-Free Products, by Jane Anderson (http://celiacdisease.about.com/od/glutenfreefoodshoppin1/a/Certified-Gluten-Free-Products.htm).
Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic, by Peter H.R. Green, M.D. and Rory Jones (http://www.amazon.com/Celiac-Disease-Hidden-Epidemic-ebook/dp/B00338QER4/a).
The Exam Room Podcast: The Truth About Gluten! (https://podcasts.google.com/?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly9leGFtcm9vbS5saWJzeW4uY29tL3Jzcw&episode=NTUzYTJiYzktMDlhYi00YTc5LTgyMGEtNjBlNGM2YmY1M2Fi)