Nowadays almost every food has a gluten-free alternative. You may have seen in restaurant menus for offering gluten free items. This however caused a lot of misconceptions about gluten and the association of ‘gluten-free’ as healthy. Today we clear up what gluten is, who should avoid it, myths surrounding the gluten-free diet, and what “gluten-free” food standards to look out for.
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale – a cross between wheat and rye. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. Gluten can be found in many types of foods, even ones that would not be expected like salad dressings, soup, and food colouring.
So why do some people avoid it all together? In most cases, when some people consume gluten it can cause illness. In short, the three major health issues some individuals have are a gluten intolerance, an allergic reaction, or are diagnosed with celiac disease.
Celiac disease is an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Eating gluten triggers an immune response in your small intestine. Over time, this reaction damages your small intestine’s lining and prevents absorption of some nutrients (malabsorption). Symptoms are diarrhoea, fatigue, weight loss, bloating, and anemia. There is no cure for celiac disease, hence most people have to follow a strict gluten-free diet to manage the symptoms and promote intestinal healing.
Also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). People diagnosed with NCGS experience many of the same symptoms as those with celiac disease, but test negative for celiac disease and wheat allergy.
A separate condition from NCGS and celiac disease, a wheat allergy is a histamine response to any of the proteins in wheat, including but not limited to gluten. Symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, hives, rashes, difficulty breathing, etc
If you think you might suffer from a gluten or wheat condition, it is important to talk to your doctor before diagnosing yourself or begin any treatment on your own.
With the increase in gluten-free foods readily more available, this resulted in a trend of people moving towards a "Gluten-Free” diet to loose weight, boost energy, or to generally feel healthier. However there is little to no evidence that this may be so. Because gluten can be found in foods we should limit ourselves such as processed food like cupcakes, cookies, and refined grains, maybe the true success for a healthier diet is to take up more wholesome, nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and lean meats that are already naturally gluten-free.
As gluten can show up in the most unexpected foods, here are some general rules when looking for products that are gluten-free:
1) Foods that are certified and labeled as gluten-free
2) For foods that are not labeled gluten free, avoid foods that contain:
- Varieties and derivatives of wheat such as:
- KAMUT® khorasan wheat
- einkorn wheat
- Malt in various forms including: malted barley flour, malted milk or milkshakes, malt extract, malt syrup, malt flavoring, malt vinegar
- Brewer’s Yeast
- Wheat Starch
- Beer, ale, lager
- Broth, soup, soup bases
- Cookies and crackers
- Some chocolates, some chocolate bars, liquorice
- Flavored coffees and teas
- Imitation bacon bits, imitation seafoods
- Medications (check with your pharmacist)
- Processed foods
- Salad dressings
- Sausages, hot dogs, deli meats
- Sauces, marinades, gravies
- Soy sauce
Although there may be no direct harm in switching to a gluten-free diet, be careful when replacing gluten with another ingredient and overall be sure to adopt a healthy eating lifestyle!