The gluten-free diet has achieved fad-like status. But what is gluten, what is celiac disease, and who should bother going gluten-free? I’m going to answer those three questions, and hopefully squash some of the nastier gluten myths in the process.
What is Gluten Free Food? Gluten is…
Simply put, gluten is a protein most commonly found in wheat, barley, and rye. Ever wonder how many of your beloved foods contain wheat? I’ll bet you remember the food pyramid. Almost everything on the bottom (that would be the biggest part) is a grain. If you’re purchasing processed food or baked goods like cereal or bread, then you’re adding gluten to your diet. So, what is gluten free food? Most likely, it’s the opposite of what you’ve been consuming on a regular basis.
Consider a common day for any of us: We wake up only to grab a bowl of cereal before we start our day. For lunch we have a sandwich (Subway, anyone?). For dinner, maybe we have a side of pasta or a slice of freshly baked bread. See how easy it is to consume gluten during all three meals? In between meals, you might be snacking on pretzels, certain types of chips, brownies, cookies, and a number of other desirables. You’re adding even more gluten.
Gluten seems to be everywhere. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are people who have a gluten allergy. Which leads us to our next question.
What is Gluten Free Food? Celiac Disease is…
Certain people have a genetic predisposition that leads to an autoimmune disorder affecting the small intestine, making it more difficult for them to absorb important nutrients. This inevitably causes a number of other conditions, and makes the disease extremely difficult to diagnose. What is gluten free food? It’s the kind of food that many of us need to eat, but don’t–because we don’t know we have celiac disease.
Many people are under the impression that celiac disease is the formal diagnosis for those with a gluten allergy, but that’s only part of the big picture. The truth is that a gluten allergy can lead to and cause celiac disease. When the small intestine is exposed to gluten, it becomes inflamed and those parts of the organ responsible for absorbing nutrients cannot do their job.
The only effective treatment for celiac disease is the gluten-free diet.
What is Gluten Free Food? The Myths Are…
One myth suggests that contemporary wheat is higher in gluten, and that’s false. Unfortunately, processed foods do contain higher levels of gluten than they did only a few years ago, so it pretty much doesn’t matter. Avoiding processed foods is probably a great idea for anyone, not just those with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance.
What is gluten free food? That’s a tough question to answer accurately. Another enormously common misconception is that the gluten-free menu is better for you…or that it is actually gluten-free. People with celiac disease can be affected by even trace amounts of the substance, and so an important ongoing question should be: Are restaurants really preparing these gluten-free foods safely? The reality is that they’re probably not. You shouldn’t think that they’re going to be extra careful or clean those contaminated surfaces just for you, because there are no rules governing whether they do or don’t.
Another myth that confuses people is that all grains contain gluten. Not true. Only a few grains contain gluten, and so there are still many that can be safely consumed by those with celiac disease. But it’s worth noting that wheat, barley, and rye are all insanely common ingredients in processed foods, and that there are many other ingredients that effectively mask the inclusion of gluten. Malt flavoring, for instance, contains gluten, and is in quite a few cereals that would otherwise be gluten-free. Those who are allergic need to do a fair amount of research before making any purchase, and take care to avoid quite a few ingredients.
What is Gluten Free Food? The Facts Are…
The truth is this: If you have a single concern that any substance entering your body might be harmful to you, you should seek the advice of a specialist. Go to a qualified doctor, and test for an allergy to gluten. There are a host of symptoms associated with celiac disease, including gas, cramps, vomiting, and nausea. In fact, many people who have irritable bowel syndrome also have celiac disease, and doctors are discovering that many more people have celiac disease than originally thought.
What is gluten free food? Hopefully, it’s the answer to an allergy epidemic. Make no mistake about the gluten-free diet. Although it has achieved a cult following, celiac disease is extremely dangerous. It can lead to very severe problems–such as cancer–if not diagnosed and treated properly. The diet, and those who must follow it, are not going anywhere anytime soon.
That said, not everyone is gluten intolerant or has an allergy to gluten, and therefore not everyone must follow the gluten-free diet. Many do and feel better because of it, but this is more likely due to the consumption of less carbohydrates and fewer processed foods, and not because of a gluten intolerance. If you still want to give the diet a try, then by all means go for it. But there’s probably no impending medical crisis if you don’t.
Hopefully I’ve provided some insight on gluten, the gluten-free diet, and celiac disease. There has been an awful lot of judgment surrounding the diet and the disease. I actually have a friend who calls me a member of hypochondriacs anonymous because I eat gluten and processed foods as little as possible. That might be amusing, but it strikes a nerve because there are many people who really don’t have a choice.
Feel free to leave me some comments below, or share your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences on the subject. I’d love to hear from anyone, and especially from those who have had to cope with celiac disease!
If you’ve got other allergies and you’re looking for some relief, check out my article called Why Are My Allergies So Bad? Natural Ways to Help Allergies for some great tips.