Walk into any grocery store and you’ll find items on the shelf labeled “gluten-free.” Common items are gluten-free bread, pasta, and tortillas. But what is gluten, and why is everyone going out of their way to avoid it?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten itself is made up of two proteins: glutenin and gliadin. These proteins are broken down in the body and absorbed in the intestines, so nutrients can be absorbed and used in the body.
However, some people cannot properly break down these proteins which creates an intolerance to gluten. For example, people with celiac disease have severe symptoms if they come in contact with gluten, even in trace amounts. People with celiac are actually allergic to gliadin, and since glutenin and gliadin cannot be separated, gluten must be avoided entirely. These symptoms are extremely painful and can cause various health issues. Less severe gluten intolerances include non-celiac gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy. Both of these do cause pain and discomfort as the intestines become inflamed.
These diseases can be diagnosed by a doctor through blood tests and in some cases intestinal biopsies. Diagnosis of these can be overlooked if a person has not been consuming gluten prior to visiting the doctor. This is because without exposure to gluten, the microvilli of the intestines will repair themselves.
If you have any gluten insensitivities from celiac disease to a wheat allergy, it’s easier now more than ever to keep gluten out of your diet. Grocery stores are packed with gluten-free products. Although this is a current phenomenon, “gluten-free” is not always a synonym for healthy. In fact, a lot of gluten-free products have more sugars and additives which are harmful for your overall health. If you do have to go gluten-free, it’s important to be knowledgeable about labels and ingredients. A sure-fire way to know if something contains gluten is to look for wheat, rye, or barley on the ingredients list.
Giving up gluten doesn’t mean giving up all carbs. There are plenty of recipes out there for gluten-free dishes that will not have you missing out on any of your favorite foods.