You’ve probably heard about gluten free diets before. Many people don’t really know what the diet entails.
What Is Gluten And What Are Its Uses?
Gluten is a mixture of various proteins found in wheat and other cereal grains like rye, barley, spelt, kamut, einkorn, and even the crossbred product of barley and rye—triticale. It has many uses, but it’s mainly used commercially in packaged foods. This protein contributes to the shape, thickness and elasticity of baked goods, enhances dough strength, flavor, and the absorption and retention of water. In addition, it also gives a chewy and tender quality to baked products. Dough rich with well-developed gluten produces chewier baked goods (like bagels, French bread, pizza) while dough that is less refined is perfect for cakes, pie crusts and other pastries. It is also used as a flavor enhancer and is used as a thickener or stabilizing agent for many processed foods like ketchup, salad dressings, mayonnaise and ice cream. Apart from food products, gluten is also used in envelope seals, beauty products, lotions, shampoos, medicines, and as a protein supplement.
Ingestion of gluten can have adverse effects for some people. A wide spectrum of disorders is triggered by this protein—like Celiac disease, wheat allergy and gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease is an autoimmune reaction to eating gluten. In Celiac disease, the immune system responds by destroying the small intestine’s lining, known as the villi. The villi help in absorbing nutrients. Celiac prohibits the body from properly absorbing nutrients.
Wheat allergy is an allergic reaction to foods such as barley, wheat and rye. Like any typical food allergy, the body’s immune system responses to the allergen (in this case, the gluten) and produces antibodies to fight the invader. Symptoms of the allergy can vary from one person to another. Symptoms can include rashes, itching, sneezing, trouble breathing, headache, and others.
Gluten sensitivity, on the other hand, is when the intolerance can neither be classified as an autoimmune or an allergic reaction, although the symptoms are the same as that of Celiac disease or wheat allergy. Symptoms may include abdominal or digestive problems, headache, fatigue or tiredness, hyperactivity, or muscle and joint pain. The solution to these problems is to follow a gluten-free diet.
Observing a Gluten-Free Diet
To avoid suffering symptoms, following a strict diet is a must. A diagnosis of Celiac disease is permanent. Celiac can’t be cured, so a gluten-free diet is a lifelong commitment.
Symptoms of wheat allergy can be alleviated through the use of medication, but its prevention lies in giving up wheat and finding alternatives.
Following a gluten-free diet can be overwhelming. There are many foods containing the protein that need to be avoided, and reading food labels is mandatory. It’s a good idea to ask for advice from a doctor or a nutritionist to make the transition easier. There are a variety of foods on the market now, and there are also many easy and delicious gluten-free recipes online. More cookbooks are being published each year.
Gluten-free foods include fruits and vegetables, fresh fish, meat, and poultry products (without marinades, batter or breading). Pastas, sauces, soups, crackers, salad dressings, cereals, cakes and pies, and others can be included in the diet as long as the ingredients are carefully monitored.
A gluten-free diet can be restrictive in some aspects, but with the availability of foods today, as well as delicious and healthy recipes that offer real alternatives, living on a gluten-free diet doesn’t mean giving up the foods you love.