Going gluten-free involves more than just giving up pastas, bread and beer…gluten lurks in many products, like frozen veggies in sauces, vitamins and supplements, and even certain brands of toothpaste. This means that going gluten-free is both complicated and extremely challenging.
So, what is gluten? Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye and barley. It helps foods maintain their shape, acting like a “glue” that holds everything together.
- Wheat: breads, baked goods, soups, pastas, cereals, sauces, and salad dressings.
- Barley: malt (malt extract, malt syrup, malted milk, malt vinegar), food coloring, soups, beer and Brewer’s Yeast.
- Rye: rye bread, rye beer, and cereals .
There are two groups of people in which gluten causes trouble: those with Celiac Disease and those with a condition called Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). People with celiac disease can’t tolerate gluten…not even in small amounts. Just 50 mg of gluten protein – about one small crouton – is enough to cause trouble. Gluten triggers an immune response that damages the lining of the small intestine. Severe abdominal pain, gas, bloating, and diarrhea are the result. This damage also interferes with food absorption and leads to significant medical problems, like infertility, osteoporosis, nerve damage and seizures .
For those with NCGS, gluten sensitivity can generate symptoms similar to that of celiac disease. It also may result in non-intestinal symptoms, like behavioral changes, bone or joint pain, muscle cramps, leg numbness, weight loss and chronic fatigue .
Digestive discomfort is the most common indication of gluten intolerance, but how do you know if gluten is the true culprit?
Test for celiac disease
There are several blood tests that screen for antibodies. The most common is called the tTG-IgA, and if that comes back positive, celiac disease is confirmed with a biopsy from the small intestine.
Going gluten-free is as simple as avoiding all grains (with the exception of rice and corn). Keep a food journal to track what you eat and how you feel afterwards .And if you’re determined to go gluten-free, beware of hidden sources of gluten that will destroy your efforts. You’ll find hidden gluten in processed foods, shredded cheeses, cold cuts, gravies and even soy sauce. Key words to avoid are:
modified food starch
What is the bottom line? For most people, avoiding gluten is unnecessary. However, if you think you have a gluten sensitivity, consult with your doctor. They can help to rule-out celiac disease and monitor your health as you work towards a gluten-free diet.