What is gluten? Gluten is a combination of proteins that are found in wheat, rye, spelt, most oats and barley. It comes from the Latin word for glue. Gluten is usually a problem for people who are gluten sensitive or have celiac disease. With celiac disease (an autoimmune condition) the intestine cannot absorb food properly due to inflammation. The inflammation damages or even destroys the villi, the tiny finger-like protrusions that line the walls of the intestines and are responsible for passing nutrients into the bloodstream. Without healthy villi a person can become malnourished by missing out on the nutrients even if they are eating a lot of food. This malnourishment can lead to diarrhea, gas, bloating, constipation, fatigue, joint pain and many other symptoms.
Some people may not have celiac disease (which is usually determined by a blood test) but may be gluten sensitive. This is different than a wheat allergy which is like most other allergies. Gluten sensitivity (intolerance) is usually marked by feeling uncomfortable after eating bread, cereals or pastas and may not occur for up to two or three days later. The symptoms are similar to celiac disease and may include skin rashes, food cravings, fatigue and a general unwell feeling. A wheat allergy usually occurs right away, like an allergic reaction to a cat or a peanut allergy.
So, what is gluten-free? Gluten is found in many foods and is very difficult to eliminate. It is found in all foods deriving from or containing wheat, barley, rye, semolina, bran, kamut, triticale, couscous and oats. However, there is controversy concerning the oats. It may be the sensitivity is from the cross-contamination of oats and gluten. Besides the obvious word wheat on packaged foods also look out for the words modified food starch, dextrin, maltodextrin, and caramel which contain traces of wheat. Wheat can also show up in beer, grain alcohol, canned soup and soup mixes, most soy sauces, white vinegar made from grains, canola oil, luncheon meats, bouillon cubes, candy, hot dogs, sauces, seasoned tofu, HVP (hydrolyzed vegetable protein) and soy milk.
What can you eat? Rice, brown rice, corn, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, and teff include most of the grains that can be eaten.
What are the PROS?- obviously if you have celiac disease and want to feel good, save your colon and not suffer more serious damage down the road, going gluten free is really important. However, even if you do not have celiac disease or gluten sensitivities, the PROS can be less digestive issues, more energy, and less inflammation. Diabetics, people with IBS,autism, osteoporosis,and arthritis really benefit from going gluten-free. A lot of the pros can be be attributed not only to cutting out the wheat products, but all of the processed foods that contain them and by increasing the healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
The CONS?- really the only con comes from the fact that it can be very challenging following a gluten-free diet.