Gluten Confusion - a Cheat Sheet!
Gluten - an enemy to some, a mystery to others, and a complete non-issue to yet another crowd. What is this confounding ingredient and what makes it so much of a concern?
To start, gluten is the name of a group of proteins found in certain grains, namely wheat, barley, rye and bran. The primary actions of these proteins is to act as a binder/"glue" that helps give breads and other baked goods their chewy, doughy texture. That texture that most bread lovers find SO satisfying.
Unfortunately, it is becoming much more common for individuals to notice problems after consuming gluten containing foods. Symptoms can range from gastrointestinal distress (bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation) to headaches and fatigue and many many more (acne, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, etc...). There are different ways (2 main) that gluten may be negatively affecting you.
#1) Celiac Disease: This is an Autoimmune Disorder where the consumption of gluten triggers the body to attack its own tissues (the intestines but also many others including skin, etc). This causes destruction of the walls of the intestines leading to inflammation, leaky gut, nutrient deficiencies, anemia, diarrhea, etc.
#2) Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: This is when the body releases antibodies in response to injestion of gluten, which then attack it and cause inflammation in the body. Other
(Note that there are several other ways in which a body can react to gluten, but they tend to be less common.)
Regardless of which, if a person has a problem digesting gluten, they will typically experience discomfort, pain, and any/all of the aforementioned symptoms. It is only with complete elimination and avoidance of gluten, including all of the grains, foods and products that contain it, that relief will be experienced and health can be fully restored.
It is now becoming more common/easy to be aware of gluten in our foods. In many cases, people try to be conscious and avoid gluten by avoiding any foods where the label lists "Wheat, Bran, Barley and Rye". While this is a good step, it's unfortunately not enough as some of these foods, wheat in particular, have many aliases. Additionally, gluten can hide in many foods that aren't wheat-bran-barley-rye based.
Here is a list of some of the most common gluten containing foods:
Bulgur: cracked wheat
Brewers Yeast: used in most beers
Couscous: very small wheat pasta
Groats: some come from barley (you can get oat groats as well - see below for a note on oats)
Malt: germinated wheat
Matzo: unleavened wheat bread
Orzo: rice-shaped wheat pasta
Seitan: wheat gluten (made by removing the starch from wheat, leaving only the sticky insoluble gluten)
Semolina: durum wheat cereal
Triticale: wheat-rye hybrid
Oats are technically Gluten-Free but they are frequently cross-contaminated with wheat, meaning that they may have gluten molecules present. You can safely consume oats if you make sure to purchase certified Gluetn-Free oats (the label will state this)
Buckwheat, despite its name, is Gluten-Free
Some other species/varieties of wheat (which will contain gluten) include:
Note that foods in the above 2 lists can and do hide in MANY foods (unless they're labeled Gluten-Free).
Energy bars, Granola bars
Potato Chips, French Fries
Candy, Chocolate Bars
Alcoholic Beverages, particularly beers, ales, lagers, malts beverages
Packaged Soups, Fillings, etc
Processed Foods (most!)
Salad Dressings, Sauces, Marinades, Syrups
To make matters worse, a slew of other products have been found to contain gluten to levels that affect many of those who are sensitive to gluten. Some of these items include:
Makeup, Lipstick, Lip gloss
Body lotions, Shampoos, Conditioners, Soaps
Some Herbal and Nutritional Supplements, Vitamins and minerals
Drugs and Medications (including over-the-counter drugs)
And anything that may become cross-contaminated with gluten - this includes cutting boards, knives & cutlery, condiments, bulk bins, etc etc
One of the most important things you can do if you feel you have a sensitivity to gluten (or any food) is to become educated about it. Speak with your Naturopathic Physician, read labels, and don't take for granted that something is safe just because a particular ingredient isn't labeled. If in doubt, don't eat it!
FYI: believe it or not, these are brief lists. For even more comprehensive information about foods to avoid, check out www.celiac.org, - even if you don't have celiac disease!
Dr Katarine Holewa