Note from the editor:
We recognize and understand that gluten-free is becoming better known almost daily. More individuals are either going gluten free or being diagnosed with Celiac disease. Gluten-free products are starting to be offered in more locations than just the health food stores. The gluten-free label is appearing more and more on baked goods, flavoring syrups, and much more. With that being said, we feel that this is an important topic to make known to our readers because there are many gluten-free products being offered at cafes, coffee shops, and other locations that coffee and tea are sold.
The term “gluten-free” seems to be everywhere! Health food stores devote entire sections to gluten-free foods, and even some supermarkets have featured sections. The latest statistics reveal that the annual sales for gluten-free products have surpassed one billion and a half dollars. Who knew that a once esoteric dietary restriction would become one of the fastest growing nutritional movements in the world?
Two questions seem particularly pertinent. The first, what the heck is gluten? The second, why would you want to “go gluten-free”?
Gluten is a storage protein found in wheat. It is a food substance that can cause serious health problems in large numbers of people. And yes, gluten-free means wheat-free also. Two other grains, rye and barley, also contain a gluten-like proteins, which likewise can cause health problems.
The problem with gluten from wheat, rye, and barley is that their glutens are resistant to the enzymes used to breakdown proteins in our digestive systems. As stated by Peter HR Green, MD (director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University), “gluten is simply not digested well by humans.”
In fact, there is a range of responses to eating gluten-containing foods. It extends from being tolerated to stimulating the immune system. In some individuals this becomes an autoimmune response. Although it is not clear how gluten initiates this response, the result is a problematic health condition called Celiac disease. Worldwide, there is an estimated prevalence of one in 266 people. In the U.S., the condition is twice as prevalent, occurring in approximately one in every 133 people of all ages.
Celiac disease is an extreme reaction to gluten. However, between toleration and disease are the possibilities of wheat allergy and various degrees of gluten sensitivity. In fact, there are some 250 known symptoms of gluten sensitivity. These include fatigue, gastro-intestinal distress (bloating, gas, acid reflux, etc.), headaches, inability to concentrate, weight problems, joint, bone, or muscle pain, depression, and/or respiratory problems. One common, yet highly unexpected symptom is infertility and another is multiple miscarriages.
What to Eat or Not to Eat
The most common gluten-containing foods are bagels, beer, bread, cookies, cakes, crackers, pizza, pretzels, breading, and gravy. When you give up these foods, you get improved health in return. Meanwhile, gluten-free products of all kinds are available to suit your tastes and protect your health, including gluten-free beer!
Only testing can reveal whether you are allergic to wheat, have gluten sensitivity, or have celiac disease.
If you have celiac disease, you must eliminate all gluten-containing foods. This is simple, but not easy. Wheat, barley, and rye are ubiquitous in the Western diet. As Kenneth Fine, MD, comments, “Grain-derived food additives, such as partially hydrolyzed vegetable protein and modified food starch are widely used in processed foods and in oral medications. Content labels are often vague or incomplete regarding these additives.”
What can you eat? The only safe foods are the following, which must be prepared carefully. For example, chicken baked or broiled, not breaded and fried. Breading is crumbs from wheat bread.
• Meat, fish, poultry, eggs
• Dairy products
• Fruits and veggies, including potatoes and yams
• Nuts and seeds
• Certain non-gluten grains
Rye is found only in rye flour and the limited number of products made of it (a variety of rye breads and crackers). Barley is present as the grain (e.g., barley in soup), as well as in beer, malt, and any malted product, including malt vinegar. However, wheat has a number of names. Spelt and bulgar are two of them, while seitan (say’tahn) may be one the least obvious and most dangerous. Vegematics beware: Seitan is a meat replacement food made of pure gluten. BUT, you have to read the label to find that out. Make label reading one of your best friends.
Although there are three grains you cannot eat (wheat, rye, barley, and oats may be a fourth for some), there are at least 10 grains that are totally gluten-free. These are amaranth, buckwheat, corn, mesquite (pinole), millet, montina, quinoa, rice, sorghum, and teff.
Further good news is that because of the widespread interest in gluten sensitivity and going gluten-free, many gluten-free products are available.
Always remember, Siri says, “Self Care Is Health Care.”