To put things simply, gluten is a storage protein in grains. If you need to be gluten free, then you are going to be specifically avoiding the gluten that is found in wheat, rye, barley. and wheat variants like spelt, triticale, durum, and semolina.
Bread bakers love gluten because it’s what allows wheat bread to expand and get airy and light. Unfortunately many of our bodies hate gluten because it can cause harmful immune system activity, allergic responses, and inflammation in a multitude of body parts. Boo to that!
For our purposes, gluten is the enemy and it must be eradicated! Sounds simple enough, but the grains that contain gluten are used in a lot of foods that you wouldn’t expect.
This is a bit simplistic, but if the food is made from whole grains, can be purchased in a bakery, contains bread or pasta in any form, has cookie crumbs, or is a condensed soup, then it more than likely has gluten in it.
For those of you who do a lot of cooking, another way to think about this may be to consider what foods have flour as an ingredient. The main ingredient in most baked goods is wheat flour. Soups and sauces are often thickened with flour. Fried foods are dredged in flour. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
Gluten can also be in some foods where you wouldn’t expect them. Soy sauce is a classic example. And sometimes gluten containing grains have been added to foods where it really has no business – like salsa, or ice cream, or roasted nuts. Now, not all brands of salsa and ice cream and roasted nuts will contain gluten, but some do.
The best way to determine whether a food contains gluten is to read the label. There’s not room here to go into a lot of detail about label reading, but suffice it to say (for now) that if the label says the food contains wheat, rye, barley. spelt, triticale, durum or semolina, then you can’t eat it. If the food is certified gluten-free then it is safe for you to eat.
Gluten is a form of protein typically occurring in the following grains: wheat, rye, triticale, barley, spelt and kamut. Bread baking is enhanced when using grains containing gluten because the protein found in gluten stretches the dough. When dough has sufficient elasticity, it has a greater capacity to rise.
The Latin root of the word gluten, meaning glue, is spelled the same way as the English word. The gluten found in wheat is called gliadin. Secalin is the name of the gluten occurring in rye, while hordein is the name of the type of gluten found in barley. Bulgur wheat or couscous is a wheat product, so a person on a gluten-free diet should avoid eating this product.
While oats do not actually contain any gluten, many farmers grow oat plants next to wheat plants. Consequently, some medical experts advise patients to eat certified, gluten-free oats instead of regular oatmeal. However, a person experiencing mild symptoms caused by gluten in the diet may wish to try eating regular oats to see if the grain causes negative reactions.
At first glance, giving up grains containing gluten may seem as though it is an impossible task, but following a gluten-free diet is easier than a person might imagine. When a person has been diagnosed with celiac disease by a physician, the only known cure is to go on a gluten-free diet.
While it is true that some doctors prescribe steroids to lessen inflammation in the intestinal tract, the treatment does not cure celiac disease. Consequently, people with celiac disease need to go on gluten-free diets if they wish to eliminate the typical symptoms associated with this chronic illness.
Anaphylaxis is an extreme allergic reaction to various substances that include food and bee stings. In a severe gluten-related attack, a person can die because of an anaphylaxis reaction. This type of allergic sensitivity commonly causes symptoms that may include a rash that itches, swelling of the throat or low blood pressure levels.
While it is tempting to perform self-diagnosis, medical tests can help diagnose whether a person has celiac disease. A person who suspects that negative side-effects may relate to gluten sensitivity may want to visit a doctor for a medical diagnosis. A series of blood tests called immunoglobulin A or IgA, anti-tissue transglutaminase or tTGA, and IgA anti-endomysium antibodies or AEA can help a physician make a diagnosis. Blood tests measure autoantibody levels in the body. Unlike normal antibodies, autoantibodies do not go after foreign substances in a person’s blood stream.
An autoantibody is a type of antibody that seeks to destroy a person’s healthy tissues. Autoantibody blood tests may indicate that the person does not have celiac disease. However, an individual who does not have high levels of autoanibodies may still have celiac disease. Consequently, a bowel biopsy is the best way to diagnose celiac disease because this type of test confirms, via tissue analysis, whether a person has celiac disease.
People do not always go to doctors for tests, especially when worried about whether they have celiac disease. A person may have a wheat intolerance, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, even though the individual does not have celiac disease. If a person has a strong suspicion that a gluten-free diet is the answer for providing relief from gluten-related side-effects, gluten-free foods are readily available in grocery stores and health food stores.
The main reason to look for gluten-free labels is to determine whether the food products contain gluten. A bag of brown or white rice does not need to have a gluten-free label because rice does not contain any gluten, nor is rice a cross-contaminated food during the growing process. However, a box of pancake mix that does not explicitly state it is gluten-free requires careful scrutiny.
First, know which types of food contain gluten, then read all the ingredients on the label. Question food products or additives that sound as though they may contain gluten. Playing a guessing game is not a good option for those who suffer dramatic symptoms related to celiac disease. For these individuals, the best practice is to buy products that state they are gluten-free. Besides the basic grains previously mentioned, here are a few additional foods that contain gluten:
Check the label on a can of whey protein powder because if it contains hydrolyzed wheat protein or glutamine peptides, the product contains gluten.
Beer typically derives from malted barley. Since barley is a grain to avoid when on a gluten-free diet, people who want to drink beer should look for gluten-free labels. Even if the label states that the beer is gluten-free, question the manufacturer if malted barley is listed as an ingredient.
Consumers may think that soy sauce is a gluten-free food because soybeans do not contain gluten. However, many soy sauce brands also contain large percentages of wheat. Either buy soy sauce that does not list wheat as an ingredient or purchase a product with a gluten-free label.
If the veggie burger contains any of the grains that have significant amounts of gluten, the burger is not a gluten-free food. Look for veggie burgers that do not contain any grains.
Modified food starch contains gluten if it is derived from wheat. Contact the manufacturer to find out the source.
People who have celiac-related allergies or simply want to go on gluten-free diets can eat many types of healthy food. Instead of loading up on wheat, rye or barley products containing gluten, eat:
Apples, grapes, strawberries and cherries contain beneficial antioxidants and fiber. A healthy diet free from gluten includes fresh fruit.
Eat broccoli, cauliflower, raw spinach salads, tomatoes, carrots, celery, garlic and onions for good health. Vegetables do not contain gluten. Fresh potatoes and corn-on-the-cob are gluten-free foods. Read labels carefully on salad dressing. Avoid buying products containing questionable ingredients.
Eggs do not contain any gluten. A gluten-free diet includes eggs and sausage or bacon for breakfast along with a slice of toast made with brown rice flour.
Meat, chicken and fish do not contain gluten. Vegetarians can eat lentils, chick peas, red beans and other legumes in place of hamburgers and salmon patties.
Indulge in unadulterated almonds, walnuts, pecans or sunflower seeds. Current scientific research indicates that eating approximately one ounce of nuts per day can help prevent heart disease. Buy nuts with 50 percent less salt or no salt, and make sure the nuts do not have processed ingredients that may contain gluten.
Milk, yogurt and cheese do not contain gluten. People who do not have lactose-intolerance issues can eat natural, gluten-free dairy products.
People diagnosed with celiac disease typically inherit the disorder from their parents. Classified as an autoimmune disease, the small intestine is typically affected. A person who is intolerant to wheat, as opposed to an individual with full-blown celiac disease, may only experience negative symptoms for a limited period. Nevertheless, those who wish to avoid any adverse reactions need to embrace a gluten-free diet.
Research shows that approximately 1 out of every 133 persons living in developed countries is intolerant to gluten. People who discover that some of their chronic symptoms are due to gluten need to go on gluten-free diets if they want to find relief. Vegans need to pay careful attention to meat substitutes because many non-animal meats contain gluten even though the label may not list the actual word gluten as an ingredient.
In addition to gaining more knowledge about gluten-free ingredients, vegans and those on gluten-free diets need to take vitamin supplements. Some vitamins, including vegan and vegetarian formulas, contain derivatives of wheat or other grains containing gluten. What is Gluten & What does ‘Gluten-Free’ mean? It means that a person’s body cannot tolerate gluten and that the individual needs to embrace a new lifestyle that includes a gluten-free diet.
If you’re reading this, then chances are you’re either just starting a gluten free diet, or are struggling to stay on a gluten free diet, or are ready to really dive into gluten free cooking and baking. The first few emails that you’ll get from me will focus on starting a gluten free diet. If you’re way past that point – don’t stop reading! At the end of each email you’ll find a challenge that’s aimed at the experienced gluten free crowd. Gluten free newbies get a pass on the homework for now!
Starting a gluten free diet can be overwhelming. I know that. It can also be terribly isolating, stressful, scary, and depressing. Acknowledge that, and then, if you can, stop thinking about all of those negatives for the next few minutes.
Focus on this one thing:
You have one of the very few illnesses that can be treated without drugs!
Yes, you’ll have to change your diet, but you don’t have to remember to take a pill every morning and you don’t have to worry about potentially dangerous side effects.
And, just in case you were worried. Gluten free is delicious. If you want, you will still be able to enjoy doughnuts and pizza and biscuits and bread. I promise!
I hate to focus on the foods that I can’t eat. I’d much rather think about all of the delicious food that I can eat. The biggest category by far are the naturally gluten free foods. You can’t get much simper than whole, unprocessed foods like
When I say whole and unprocessed, I mean food that is as close to its natural state as possible. This is the food that you’ll find on the outer edges of the grocery store, at your local farmer’s market, and in the garden or pasture of your green-thumbed neighbor.
You’ll also quickly become acquainted with (and love) the gluten-free grains. They will be your friend when you’re looking to carb-load for a long run, or indulge in a bit of comfort food. In this category we have:
You’re probably never heard of most of these, and that’s okay. You don’t have to try them all this week. Just know that they are out there, if you want them. I’ll tell you all about gluten free flours in another email, but just know now that all of the gluten free grains, as well as many beans, are also available as flours.
Hopefully you’ll also find that your grocery store carries at least a few packaged foods that are certified gluten free. A certified gluten free food has undergone 3rd party verification by the certifying group. These are the safest packaged foods for you to eat. You can see pictures of the gluten free certification labels here, here, and here.
You’ll also see foods with a gluten free label. If a food manufacturer uses this label, then it is supposed to mean that the foods is naturally gluten free and that tests have shown that the food meets the proposed regulatory definition of gluten free, which is
However, the FDA has never finalized the gluten free label regulations, third party verification is not required, and many well respected gluten free authorities feel that the 20 ppm threshhold is too high.
Theoretically, these foods should be safe to eat, but your beliefs about the integrity of certain food manufacturers should inform your purchasing decisions. Some individuals who react strongly to the ingestion of gluten have become sick after eating foods with a gluten-free label.
That’s all for today. If you’re new to being gluten free, you get a pass on homework. If not, then keep reading. In the next lesson we’ll cover multiple food allergies and what you need to know to incorporate other food intolerances into a gluten free diet.
There are many reasons that you may struggle on a gluten free diet. One reason may be that you’re having trouble thinking of foods that are safe for you to eat. If that’s you, then I challenge you to complete the following assignment:
I want you to amaze yourself with the incredible variety of foods that you can eat. There are a number of ways that you can do this, so be creative. If you like to eat out, do a search for gluten free restaurant menus. They don’t have to be in your area – I just want you to see what the possibilities are.
If you prefer not to cook from scratch, then spend some time online looking at all of the different packaged gluten free foods. Find gluten free bakeries that will ship to your door. If you do like to cook, then head to the grocery without the intention of buying anything. Just make a list of all of the naturally gluten free foods that you find in the produce and meat sections.