Not too long ago, Gluten was a foreign word in diet circles which most of us never heard of. But it’s been slowly introduced into the health vocabulary in countless cookbooks, and various media, whether we should be eliminating gluten from our diets or not.
So why would a protein that’s found in natural food products such as wheat, barley, and rye, all of a sudden go on the suspect list of what we shouldn’t be eating. Before you decide to jump on the no-gluten bandwagon, here’s what you should know about Gluten.
A Definition Of Gluten
Broken down elementally, Gluten is a protein component which is found in traditional health foods such as: wheat, barley, rye, triticals and spelt. It’s directly responsible for giving dough that elasticity, such as in those delicious whole-wheat bagels.
You’re most likely aware that the majority of foods which you currently eat are gluten laden products. The long list of favorite foods include: breads, cereals, pasta, crackers, cakes and cookies, and the majority of other baked goods, all contain gluten or traces of gluten.
Gluten is also used as a thickening agent which is popularly used in: soups, gravy, soy sauce, candy, marinades, medicine, and herbal supplements, along with a host of other everyday foods.
The Effects Of Gluten On The System
Although it’s not completely understood, what gluten does is it physically triggers a negative effect in individuals who eat foods containing gluten. It’s biggest effect is on those who may have celiac disease, which is an auto immune disorder that affects millions of individuals.
Individuals who may have celiac disease, and happens to eat even microscopic traces of gluten, their immune system will instantly attack the small intestine, preventing absorption of valuable nutrients, which then leads toward potentially life-threatening malnutrition.
There are also other reactions to gluten sensitivity, which is known as gluten intolerance. Symptoms, which can vary depending on the individual, can include: constipation, diarrhea, bloating, nausea, vomiting, skin irritation, muscle cramps, and mild depression.
Why Gluten Is Becoming Prominent
The reason why we’re hearing a lot more about gluten lately is because of the ill effects it can cause, particularly on those suffering from celiac disease, and those affected by gluten intolerance.
Experts in this area has stated that incidences of celiac disease has risen by 400% percent in the past half century. Also, there are close to 20 million individuals in North America who claim to be gluten sensitive.
There are a few other reasons for the heightened awareness of gluten, and that’s increased exposure by the health experts. Traditionally, gluten at one time was only available through wheat products, but gluten is now present in a variety of everyday foods.
It’s also not that surprising that there are more individuals who are recently becoming intolerant, this most likely because gluten is considered a relatively new dietary staple.
More Gluten In Our Diets
Before the agricultural process of food existed, our ancestors primarily ate raw fruits, herbs, nuts, and hunted for meat. We as humans do not have the proper enzymes in our systems which are capable of properly breaking down gluten completely. Although there was grain in their diets back then, the composition isn’t like what they are today.
The grains which we consume in modern times have been biologically engineered to the point of having a higher gluten content. This because the gluten that’s added helps in warding off insects, at the agricultural level, which in turn produces higher crop yields.
Know If Your Gluten Intolerant
Unlike obvious signs of specific food allergies, which are responses directly from the immune system and responds quite strongly, food intolerance caused by gluten is more of a gastrointestinal response.
There are certain foods, the ones which contain gluten, for instance, which can either irritate the digestive system, or they can’t be completely broken down. Once your digestive system fails to function properly as a result, you then may begin to feel sick.
The intolerance to this food intake however is dose dependent, meaning that you may be able to enjoy that birthday cake every once in a while without experiencing any side effects. This “dosage,” however, depends on the individual.
Celiac disease can usually be detected by blood tests, as well as intestinal lining biopsies which can also provide accurate diagnosis. Testing for Gluten intolerance, on the other hand, there’s no specific tests which currently exists.
One of the only indicators is the feeling of being a little sick to the stomach after consuming certain foods which contain gluten, which may signal that your intolerant. It’s important however that celiac disease needs to be ruled out first.
If you do test negative for celiac disease, your doctor will usually recommend that you avoid gluten from your diet for up to 2 weeks. Once diagnosed as being gluten sensitive, the individual may usually report symptoms while ingesting gluten, while seeing marginal improvement, or the symptoms may disappear completely once it’s eliminated.
Guidelines For Going Gluten Free
Once you discover that you have either celiac disease or are gluten intolerant, you’ll then need to become aware of what you eat. While it’s possible that small doses of gluten can be ingested, those with celiac disease should avoid any foods which lists traces of gluten as a potential ingredient. These ingredients include, barley, rye, wheat, triticale, durham, kamut, graham, semolina, farina, spelt, caramel, and modified food starch, just to name a few.
Also, flavoring or “flavor” products may also potentially contain gluten as well. So to be as safe as possible, it’s always best to avoid any food products which lists any of these as ingredients.
In some cases, oats should be on the list as well, especially if it’s processed or cross-contaminated with barley, wheat, or rye products. What also needs to be eliminated are processed meats, as well as processed snacks, and the majority of fast foods.
If you enjoy beer, it’s recommended that you switch over to wine or even distilled liquors. You should also be aware of the non-food gluten sources, such as, lip balm or lipstick, toothpaste, certain vitamin supplements, and medication which uses gluten as a binding agent.
It’s important to know that not all of the cosmetic companies will list all of their ingredients, so if you happen to have celiac disease, it’s best to purchase products which specifically indicate that their gluten-free.
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