What is gluten? That elastic texture in uncooked dough comes from gluten. It helps dough to rise and keep shape when baked. Gluten is a protein found in cereal grains such as wheat, rye and barley. It is a mix of two proteins called glutenin and gliadin. Glutenin is 47% of the protein found in cereal grains. Gluten is what causes inflammation in the small intestines of people with an illness called celiac disease. Many people can also have a sensitivity or intolerance to it.
Why be on the gluten free diet? If you are struggling with digestive problems, it’s possible you may have a sensitivity to gluten or even a disease called Celiac. Celiac disease is the main reason for going on the gluten free diet. There are about 3 million Americans with the disease and many don’t even know they have it! When gluten is consumed, by a person with the disease, an autoimmune reaction happens in the body. This reaction inflames the small intestine and destroys the villi that absorb nutrients for the body. People with celiace disease experience symptoms such as constipation, weight gain or loss, diarrhea, gas, upset stomach, eczema and more. Celiac disease can even cause more serious or long term effects such as osteoporosis, osteopenia, cancer, infertility and other reproductive health problems or other autoimmune disorders.
Although Celiac disease is the foremost reason for going on the gluten free diet, an intolerance or sensitivity to gluten can be another reason. People suffering from gluten intolerance may experience abdominal cramping, diarrhea, bloating and flatulence. Just like Celiac disease, symptoms appear after consuming foods and are similiar to, yet not as severe as found in persons with the disease. An intolerance has not yet been proven to have long lasting affects. Gluten sensitivity has many of the same symptoms as Celiac disease and affects around 18 million Americans. Sensitivity to gluten however, does not cause long lasting effects, such as osteoporosis, damage to the intestines, cancer, infertility and other effects seen in Celiac disease.
Gluten intolerance, Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are not the only reasons to go gluten free. Many people omit gluten from their diets to improve their health. Following the gluten free diet may help to better focus the mind and think clearer as well as improve one’s mood. People with sensitivities to gluten have noted that consuming it causes depression, headaches, clouded thinking and even ADHD like symptoms. Abstaining from gluten may reduce these conditions. Vitamins and minerals may not be fully absorbed by those with a gluten sensitivity or intolerance. The lack of vitamins and minerals may lead to malnutrition which causes fatigue in the body. Cutting out gluten from your diet can alleviate the feelings of weariness or weakness.
What foods should be avoided? When first starting out on a diet it can be difficult to know which foods to avoid. Grains are a general staple in a daily diet, many of which contain gluten. Here is a list of what should be avoided and what to look for on labels.