Living Gluten Free
What is gluten?
Gluten is a storage protein found in wheat and other grains including barley, rye, spelt, kamut and triticale. Gluten is what makes bread elastic and helps it rise, and gives pastries their light, flakey texture. Gluten can also make some people sick without their knowledge.
Why follow a gluten-free diet?
Some folks absolutely must not eat gluten in order to stay healthy and functional. Others simply feel better once they’ve cut gluten out of their diet. Reasons for not eating gluten range from severe allergies, to a desire to take advantage of the whole host of alternative flours we can now enjoy with relative convenience.
True food allergies involve a hypersensitive immune system reaction to normally benign foods. Reactions to food allergies are often sudden and can be deadly. About 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies, with wheat being one of the top contenders.
Celiac disease, thought to afflict one in 133 Americans, is an autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive process of the small intestine when gluten is consumed. Symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and fatigue occur in only one-third to one-half of celiacs, yet damage to their intestines continues. While tests exist, there is no cure for celiac disease, only treatment: complete abstinence from gluten.
Approximately one in 150 children is estimated to have autism, a condition that continues to perplex the medical community. While many questions remain about the cause and diagnosis of autism, many experts advocate a gluten-free diet, believing that autistic children don’t process gluten properly.
Approximately 5.4 million children have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the symptoms of which include trouble with focus, patience, and over-activity. Some parents advocate treatment of ADHD with a gluten-free diet.
Intolerance or Sensitivity
Experts estimate that 10% to 15% of Americans show intolerance to gluten. Symptoms to gluten intolerance or sensitivity may be delayed and subtle, and often include nasal congestion, headaches, achy joints, rashes, stomachaches and more. While tests exist for food intolerance, food sensitivity is recognized only through dietary trial and error.
There are a great variety of flours now available at supermarkets and health food stores that can be used (with varying degrees of recipe alteration) in lieu of flours containing gluten. Rice, sorghum, potato and tapioca are the most prevalent, but have you tried buckwheat, teff, almond or gluten free oat flours?
Gluten can be found in breads, crackers, cookies, pastas, tortillas, cakes; anything made from wheat (that includes ‘white’ flour!), barley, rye, spelt and kamut. Gluten is also hidden in some broths, deli meats, bouillons, salad dressings, soy sauce, teas, and much more! While oats and oat flour are naturally gluten-free, they may be contaminated in the growing and refining process: be sure to buy oats that are dedicated ‘gluten free’.