Recently, gluten has been receiving a lot of buzz. Disputing claims on two sides makes finding accurate information difficult. One side says gluten has harmful effects only on select individuals. While the opposing side states it is damaging to the human body. In fact, the purpose of gluten is to aid in the physical formation of baked goods, and only has detrimental effects to a select percentage of the population.
According to a description provided by the Food and Drug Administration, gluten is a protein occurring naturally in certain grains. Those grains include wheat, barley, rye, and crossbreeds of these grains. Gluten provides shape, strength, and texture to bread and grain products.
The University of Vermont outlines certain functions of gluten which includes:
- Flavoring agent
- Texture enhancer
- Leavening agent
Gluten is found in a variety of baked goods, such as most bread, pastas, cereals, cakes, cookies, crackers and a plethora of other foods. Only foods explicitly labelled "Gluten-Free," or other FDA approved terms, should be considered free of gluten.
People might choose a gluten-free diet because of perceived health benefits or weight loss. However, the original intention of gluten-free diets where to meet the nutritional needs of those who have celiac disease, gluten allergy, or gluten sensitivity. The same article notes healthy individuals have no need to eliminate gluten from their diets.
For some it is necessary to eliminate gluten from their diet. Therefore, modern gluten-free products allow variety for those who suffer from
- Celiac disease
- Non-celiac gluten sensitivity
- Gluten allergy
According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, celiac disease is an immune response to gluten damaging the lining of the small intestine. In particularly, the body's immune system attacks villi, which are small, fingerlike growths on the lining of the small intestine that aid in nutrient absorption.
This disease can cause nutrient deficiencies and chronic digestive issues. Over time causing infertility, weak and brittle bones, skin rash, and other problems.
There is another form of gluten intolerance called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, people with non-celiac often exhibit the same symptoms of celiac disease, but their immune system does not damage their intestinal lining.
Specifically, non-celiac gluten sensitivity is an innate immune response. This means it is not specific to what invading organism it is fighting. This type of response does not target self-tissue. Compared to celiac disease, which is antigen specific. This type of immune response results in an attack on bodily tissue, in particular intestinal tissue.
Lastly, gluten or wheat allergy is also an immune response to a particular protein. The Gluten Intolerance Group identifies this allergy as an IgE-mediated allergy. The IgE, or immunoglobulin E, antibody occurs when allergy causing food is introduced to the body. The reaction can either be immediate, which is life threatening, or delayed. Reactions vary but can include fever, shortness of breath, swelling, rashes, and many others.
In order to treat celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or gluten allergy, people with these health issues must either limit or completely avoid foods with gluten.
- Celiac Disease
- Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
- Gluten Allergy
- Nutrient Deficiencies
- Chronic Digestive Issues
- Weak and Brittle Bones
- Skin Rash
Although wheat, barley, and rye are popular grains used in a variety of common foods, they are only a small portion of the total grains available to consumers. The Great Grain Council identifies several grains that are gluten-free, so people with gluten intolerance can get the nutritional benefits of whole grains.
- Job's Tears (Hato Mugi)
- Montina (Indian rice grass)
- Wild Rice
Although modern processing provides a variety of gluten-free products and meals, it is imperative to be careful during purchasing as contamination can occur. A solution to help control cross-contamination is to make gluten-free foods at home with the proper tools, such as a grain mill.
NutriMill Grain Mills give you quality products to mill your own gluten-free grains at home. This helps you to prevent any cross-contamination keeping you in control of your food. You know where your food has been and what it contains. (Link to Why NutriMill).
Going gluten-free can be expensive as these foods need a lot of processing in order to eliminate the gluten. Making your own homemade, gluten-free tortillas, bread, soups, and a variety of other foods will save you money over time. Also, homemade foods just taste better and fresher than their store-bought counterparts. (Link to Cost Savings)
Gluten intolerance can be a debilitating health issue, but there are a variety of foods and services to aid in the control and avoidance of gluten.
Many foods should simply be avoided in gluten-free diets. However, there are still plenty of foods that are naturally gluten-free including some grains, dairy, and nuts.
- Beans, seeds, nuts in their natural unprocessed form
- Fresh eggs
- Fresh meats, fish and poultry
- Fruits and vegetables
- Most dairy products
- Teff (tef)
- Corn (maize)
- Breads, bread crumbs
- Cakes, pies, cookies, crackers
- Salad dressings, sauces including soy sauce
- French fries
- Imitation meat or seafood
- Processed luncheon meats
- Barley (malt, malt flavoring and malt vinegar)
- Triticale (a cross between wheat and rye)
- Wheat, bulgur
- Durum flour
- Farina flour
- Graham flour
Celiac disease is a major modern health concern. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, 1 percent of the population in the United States has celiac disease. This means 1 in 133 people have to constantly avoid gluten in their daily lives.
(An infographic of the symptoms would be great to convey it in an interesting way)
However, some may not exhibit any symptoms at all. This is known as asymptomatic celiac disease. This occurs when the villi in the small intestine are still able to absorb enough nutrients to stop the symptoms from showing, but complication can still arise from the disease.
In August, 2013 the FDA issued a regulation outlining the term gluten-free and appropriate labeling. There are four specific terms food can use if they are considered gluten-free. Those terms are
- Free of gluten
- No gluten
- Without gluten
The FDA states products using these four terms must contain a gluten limit less than 20 parts per million. This regulation is to ensure consumers are not being misled and those with gluten intolerance are, in fact, purchasing food that is gluten-free.
Be wary of products claiming to be gluten-free but using different terms than the ones outlined in the FDA regulation. The product may contain enough gluten to cause a reaction.
Symptoms of celiac disease do largely mimic other health problems including irritable bowel syndrome or Chrone's disease. Therefore, it is difficult to precisely diagnose. The first step is to perform blood tests to understand the body's response to gluten. After, a biopsy of the small intestine might be performed to solidify any positive results from the blood tests.
The only available treatment for celiac disease is the commitment to a life-long gluten-free diet.
Before self-diagnosing, it is important to see a physician before undergoing any diet changes.