What is Gluten

What is Gluten

Gluten is a protein compound found in wheat, rye, barley, triticale, and a number of other processed foods. A binding agent that creates elasticity and helps give certain food products their shape and texture, gluten is the component responsible for making breads light and fluffy, croissants rich and flaky, and cookies chewy-gooey. Gluten is also a thickener for soups and sauces, and in some cases, is added to foods for enhanced flavor and supplemental protein.

Foods Containing Gluten

Gluten is everywhere on the grocery store shelves. In addition to the more obvious gluten-laden food sources such as breads, cookies, cakes, cereals, soups, pasta, and beer, gluten can also be commonly found in vinegar, soy sauce and salad dressings, broths, sauces, and food colorings. The list of food products containing gluten goes on and on.

Why Gluten Can Be Harmful to Health

Gluten is comprised of four main proteins: glutelins, globulins, albumins, and prolamins. Glutelins can be particularly troublesome for those suffering from some form of gluten sensitivity. Those eaters who are prone to gluten sensitivity can experience a diverse range of adverse health issues, which result from an intolerance to the associated biochemical reactions that take place during gluten metabolism.

Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity

Gluten sensitivity is a blanket term often used to describe a wide scope of health disorders that point to some degree of gluten intolerance, including wheat allergy, non-Celiac gluten sensitivity, and Celiac disease. Approximately one percent of the U.S. population suffers from Celiac disease, and six percent are considered gluten sensitive. And the numbers are on the rise.

Symptoms of gluten sensitivity may include gastrointestinal discomfort, fatigue, headaches, constipation, diarrhea, joint inflammation, and depression. Those with a more pronounced form of gluten sensitivity can additionally experience inflammation in the lower intestines, and intense abdominal pain.

Celiac disease is the most severe form of gluten sensitivity. Those diagnosed with Celiac disease must avoid products containing gluten at all costs, as consumption can lead to extreme reactions, which may include anaphylaxis and irreversible intestinal damage.

Going Gluten Free

The best recourse for gluten sensitivity is to avoid products containing gluten entirely. While a tedious task at first, the practice of going gluten-free typically provides relief for those on the gluten intolerance spectrum.

Due to a growing prevalence in reported cases of gluten sensitivity in the U.S., recent efforts to provide more gluten-free alternatives for concerned consumers have gained a lot of momentum in the food industry. Many foods are now packaged with gluten-free labels to help shoppers determine which products are safe, and which to avoid. A number of grocers have also added gluten-free labels in the aisles to help with quick identification. In some cases, entire sections of stores have been reserved specifically for gluten-free products. Many restaurants now offer those with gluten sensitivity a variety of menu alternatives, as well.

Still, going entirely gluten-free can be difficult. Case in point, cross-contamination during food preparation can set off a reaction in those with Celiac disease and the more severe forms of gluten sensitivity, which means it may not be enough to simply request the gluten-free menu at a restaurant. Additionally, many foods that are labeled gluten-free may have been produced in processing plants that actually contain gluten. Completely omitting gluten from the diet requires a fair degree of consumer education, along with a stalwart devotion to reading labels and asking questions.

Many individuals may benefit from gluten free supplements such as spirulina and astaxanthin as some nutrition is lost from a gluten-free diet. Be sure to consult with your health care professional who can guide you when transitioning to a gluten-free lifestyle.