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It wasn’t that long ago when literally no one was worried about gluten. They knew nothing about it and they seemed perfectly happy living that way.
Fast forward to today and possibly everyone has heard the term Gluten Free, but what exactly is gluten and why should you care?
Gluten is a protein that is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and a cross between wheat and rye called triticale.
It is common in foods such as bread, pasta, pizza and cereal, and in some cases, even oats due to cross-contamination when the oats are grown in the field alongside wheat. Gluten provides no essential nutrients, however, it can cause a good amount of grief and suffering in a person who has problems with the gluten protein.
The people most affected by gluten have what is called Celiac Disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which gluten triggers immune system activity that damages the lining of the small intestine. Over time, this damage prevents the absorption of nutrients from food which among other problems can cause iron-deficient anemia.
Then there are those people who have Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, which causes signs and symptoms associated with celiac disease, including abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, foggy brain, fatigue, joint and bone pain, depression, skin rashes or headaches, and of course possible iron-deficient anemia, but it isn’t messing with their nutrient absorption.
There are a lot of people out there that have the above symptoms and eating a gluten free diet provides a lot of relief for them, with some people even claiming improved health, weight loss, and increased energy.
Finally, there are those people who are straight-up allergic to wheat. With a wheat allergy, like other food allergies, it is the result of the immune system mistaking gluten or some other protein found in wheat as a disease-causing agent, such as a virus or bacteria.
The immune system creates an antibody to the protein, prompting an immune system response that may result in congestion, breathing difficulties and other symptoms.
So if you’re constantly sneezing, sniffing and or wheezing you might want to consider gluten to be the culprit.
Now the question arises, “Where do I find gluten so I can avoid it?”.
As mentioned above, the simple answer is that you find gluten in wheat, barley, and rye. However, it really isn’t that simple (you didn’t think it would be, did you?)
Wheat can go by other names that you have to look out for as well, such as Durum, Einkorn, Emmer, Kamut, Spelt, Farina, Graham Flour and Semolina.
Now with it getting more complicated, I’m sure you’ve figured out that you need to start reading all the ingredients on every item you purchase at the supermarket from now on.
This is a very annoying thing to suddenly have to do, and it really slows down your shopping trip. Even so, we highly recommend you start doing just that. Read every label and every ingredient. If you’re not sure of something, look it up on your phone right there and then.
You’re going to find it in a lot of the things you regularly buy. You’re going to get frustrated. Just keep ongoing. You’ve got this. You’ll get better and better at knowing what you can and can’t eat and you will begin to shop quickly again…eventually.
While you’re at the grocery store you want to make sure you’re aware that it is hiding in some pretty strange places. Some you might think are no brainers, but others you will be surprised at.
The following items you are going to want to avoid unless they’re labeled as gluten free or made with corn, rice, soy or other gluten free grains.
Beer, Ale, Porter, Stout (We’ve never found a gluten free beer we enjoy around here, but that doesn’t mean you won’t like some of them.)
Cakes and Pies
Frozen French Fries (typically coated in wheat so that they don’t all stick together in the bag)
Gravies (mixes as well as caned, boxed)
Imitation Meat or Seafood
Hotdogs and Processed Lunch Meats
Sauces and Soy Sauce
Seasoned Rice Mixes
Seasoned Snack Foods like chips and tortilla chips
Self Basting Poultry
Soups, Bouillons and Soup Mixes
Vegetables in Sauce
As you can see you need to be reading every single label on every single item you put into your shopping cart.
It gets even more intense when you realize that food is not the only place you can find gluten. It’s also in many medications, both prescribed and over the counter. It’s also in vitamins and supplements, even herbal ones.
You can also find it in beauty products, including your hair products, and your make up. We’ve found it in our shampoo, our lipstick, and even our mascara.
You can also find it in your toothpaste and mouthwashes, so read those ingredient labels too.
Then there are some places you might never even think to consider; envelope and stamp glue and playdough. Not only do kids sometimes try to eat their playdough, but we can all absorb the playdough ingredients through our skin.
So read everything, look up everything, research everything.
I know this is annoying, it’s even hard, and to be honest, you are going to miss some things when you first start reading labels. However, you will get better at it. Eventually, you will even become your own sort of expert on the topic of where gluten is hiding.
Now, let's talk about restaurants. Depending on how sensitive you are to gluten and depending on whether you have diagnosed celiac disease or not you are going to want to really think about eating out in restaurants and what that means to your gluten free diet.
Gluten gets cross-contaminated with other items easily in the restaurant kitchen (in your kitchen at home as well). If you or your loved one has diagnosed celiac disease and is hypersensitive to gluten then eating out in a restaurant might still get them sick.
Even when the restaurant marks the item as gluten free you are going to want to ask them if they use dedicated counter space and prep items such as knives and spoons to prepare the gluten free items. If they don’t then watch out for that cross-contamination.
If you don’t have celiac disease, and you can handle a little cross-contamination then you should be ok…but everyone is different. So if you go out to eat at places and are always having gluten sensitivity symptoms then it’s best to avoid that restaurant.
Here you are now, perhaps wondering if you have a problem with gluten. You have some of the symptoms mentioned in this article and you know that every time you eat at your favorite restaurant you get terrible bloating and headaches no matter what you order.
You realize that you need to start reading labels and perhaps eliminating gluten altogether.
Slow down for a moment though, because if your symptoms are so bad that you think you might actually have celiac disease then you do not want to stop eating gluten just yet.
You see, there are two types of tests your doctor can do to find out if you have celiac disease, and you don’t want to start a gluten free diet before the tests because of course that can make you have a negative test result.
If you are having terrible symptoms as listed above then go to your doctor and get tested for celiac disease before you change your diet. They will most likely start with a simple blood test.
If you’re just having mild to moderate sensitivity symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, rashes, headaches, etc then it might be time to eliminate gluten from your diet, let your system clean itself out and see how you feel and react.
Symptoms typically improve in two weeks and can disappear entirely in three months.
Now you have the rundown on Gluten. If you think you might have Celiac Disease head to your doctor to find out. If you think you might just be sensitive to it, then start eliminating it and find out. You’re always going to be the best person to keep you healthy…so keep taking care of yourself!