30 January 2013

What is the Deal with Gluten-Free?

Photo Credit

More than likely you have seen the words "Gluten-Free" on packaging. I know in my grocery store, gluten-free products have become so popular that they now have their own aisle! But is this some kind of new "fad" or is gluten intolerance on the rise?

What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and similar grains, including rye and barley (sometimes oats can be contaminated with it). It gives baked goods that chewy texture. It is also used as a thickener and binder, flavor enhancer, and protein supplement. A person with Celiac Disease cannot consume foods with gluten

What is Celiac Disease?
It is an auto-immune disorder. When gluten is consumed an immune reaction occurs destroying the tiny villi on the intestinal walls. This can then affect the ability to absorb important nutrients. One out of every 133 people in the US is affected by celiac disease. The disease can rear its ugly head at any point in a persons life and there are genetic factors. There is no cure. The only treatment is a life long gluten-free diet. The symptoms will disappear and the villi will even heal over time if that diet is followed. Avoiding gluten may be the new "cure all." It is hard to know for sure since it is still unknown what causes it celiac.

Abdominal pain, bloating, gas, or indigestion
Decreased appetite (may also be increased or unchanged)
Diarrhea, either constant or off and on
Nausea and vomiting
Unexplained weight loss (although people can be overweight or of normal weight)

Missing important nutrients from food may cause some of these symptoms:
Bruising easily
Depression or anxiety
Growth delay in children
Hair loss
Itchy skin (dermatitis herpetiformis)
Missed menstrual periods
Mouth ulcers
Muscle cramps and joint pain
Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
Unexplained short height

If you test negative to celiac disease but have many of the above symptoms you may still have a gluten intolerance. By eating less gluten you will feel better and just like with celiac disease, you symptoms will disappear.

There seems to be a rise in gluten intolerance over the years because it is just starting to become recognized. Whether being gluten-free is a personal choice or a way to introduce new grains, there are some great recipes and products available.

Keep in mind just because something is gluten-free, it doesn't mean it is healthier!
Be careful not to fall for the new popular labeling of products. This is a great opportunity to try new foods though.
Here are some gluten-free grains to add to your meals:
Montina (Indian rice grass)
Oats** see below
Wild Rice
**Oats themselves are naturally gluten-free, but are often contaminated with wheat during growing or processing.

Do you have Celiac's Disease?
Head on over to Andrea Rice's website Simplicity Wellness to find out first hand what it is like to have celiac's disease. She has some great health tips and gluten free recipes! Connect with her on Facebook.

What do you think about all the gluten free products?