We often see the words, ‘gluten-free’ on food packages. But what does that mean, and why is it important?
What is ‘Gluten’?
Here’s how Wikipedia defines gluten, “Gluten is the composite of two proteins called gliadin and glutenin. These exist, conjoined with starch, in the endosperms of some grass-related grains, notably wheat, rye, and barley”. They further tell us that maize and rice contain stored proteins that are referred to as glutens but do not contain the gliadin that wheat gluten does. Glutenin gives elasticity to wheat dough, allows leavening, and adds the chewy consistency in bagels and other similar products.
It’s important to note that gluten is not necessarily a bad thing, as it is a source of nutritional protein, which is derived directly from the grains that contain it, and also used as additive to foods that are low in protein. The problem with gluten is when an allergy exists.
Some individuals are intolerant of gluten and experience health issues when digested. Allergydetails.com’s article, “Gluten Allergy Symptoms” provides detailed information on Gluten allergies and symptoms. They tell us that gluten allergies are fairly common, stating that, “Some studies indicate that 1 in 167 apparently healthy children (0.6%) and 1 in 111 adults (0.9%) have a gluten allergy.” However, according to their article, if you have a gluten allergy, tiny amounts of gluten in your diet may be okay, as long as you do not experience discomfort. But if discomfort results, broader elimination is required.
Some scientific studies indicate a link between gluten and autism; however the overall conclusions are mixed in the medical community. A gluten-free diet is used to treat people with Celiac disease, which is hereditary and is a disorder that is triggered when gluten is digested. If individuals with celiac disease eat gluten for an extended period of time, it can cause permanent damage to their bodies, resulting in poor absorption of nutrients, pollution of the blood stream, deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, anaemia, and can eventually prove to be fatal.
Gluten Allergy Symptoms
The primary complaint of someone who has a gluten allergy is stomach and intestinal discomfort, and can include diarrhea, constipation, abdominal bloating, and diverticulitis. Other Symptoms might include anemia, osteoporosis, depression, fatigue, attention and behavioral problems and skin disorders. Someone with a gluten allergy will not necessarily experience all of these symptoms, and may have others to add to the list. But just because someone has a few of these symptoms does not necessarily confirm an allergy. The only way to diagnose a gluten allergy is though an allergy test for gluten by a physician.
What to Avoid if You Have a Gluten Allergy
A gluten-free diet excludes the protein gluten, eliminating the grains that contain it. The Mayo Clinic website’s article, “Gluten-free diet” in their Nutrition and Healthy Eating section, provides a lengthy list of the foods that contain gluten. They recommend avoiding all foods unless they are labeled ‘gluten free’, or are made of corn, rice, soy or another gluten-free grain.
It is also important to check whether the product is processed in a facility free of gluten-containing grains to avoid cross-contamination. Mayo Clinic warns that, although oats do not contain gluten, oats can be cross-contaminated during the growing or processing stages and should therefore be avoided unless fully researched or the ‘gluten-free’ label is present.
Foods on Mayo’s ‘avoid’ list include: beers, breads, cereals, crackers and cookies. The complete list is lengthy, and it may be wise to print it out before grocery shopping. And surprisingly, gluten is not limited to foods. According to Mayo Clinic, it is also possible that products such as lipstick, lip balms, toothpaste and even play dough may contain gluten! So, be sure to check the ingredients of any product that you place near your mouth if you have a gluten allergy.
What to Eat with a Gluten Allergy
The first rule when buying packaged food is to check labels and watch for the word ‘gluten-free’. But fresh foods require less scrutiny. Gluten-free foods include fresh meats, fish and poultry, fruits, most dairy, potatoes, rice, vegetables, and even wine!
Those following a gluten-free diet may become deficient on certain vitamins and nutrients, because the products are not fortified or enriched. Incorporating gluten-free oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, corn tortillas, and fruits and vegetable can provide valuable nutrients for allergy suffers who must eliminate gluten. Gluten-free food ideas are outlined by Michael Picco, M.D. on the Mayo Clinic answer to the question, “How do I get enough grains?” It is also recommended to take a vitamin supplement to ensure getting the proper nutrients.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of gluten allergy, it would be wise to ask your doctor for an allergy test, and if the results are positive, a change in diet is a must. Luckily grocery stores and local markets provide an abundance of healthy, fresh foods, and gluten-free products are produced by many manufacturers. Although finding out you have this allergy means a lifestyle change, the good news is that gluten-free eating just may be your ticket to feeling better and living longer!
Wikipedia “Gluten” and “Gluten-free Diet”