Up until recently I knew very little about gluten. My knowledge was very limited to what I learned in school almost twenty years ago. This was Vague to say the least. All I could remember was that gluten was a key ingredient in bread. With that being said, I basically knew nothing and had to re-familiarize myself. In recent years there has been a surge of people diagnosed and treated for gluten intolerance and allergies. As a result, multiple food manufacturers have developed gluten-free food alternatives. But why? This post will give you the 9 facts you need to about Gluten.
1). What is Gluten?
Gluten is a mix of proteins found in different types of grains, including spelt, wheat, rye, barley, and potentially oats. Let’s examine the name “glu-ten”. As it’s name implies gluten acts as glue to hold foods together. In relation to bread, it holds the ingredients together and makes it pliable so that it can be easily molded into different shapes for baking.
Fortunately not all grains contain gluten. There are some grains that are naturally gluten free such as sorghum, millet, brown rice, buckwheat, wild rice, amaranth, quinoa, and teff. Oats are also naturally gluten free. However, it is refined in facilities that process gluten so buyer beware. When things are processed within the same facility there is always a risk of cross-contact. In other words, the gluten may stick to the machinery within the plant and deposit small amounts onto grains that are naturally gluten free such as oats.
2). Is Gluten Bad for Your Health?
Gluten is not a danger to the average person. It is however, extremely toxic in people with Celiac disease. It is a hereditary autoimmune disorder which affects about 1% of the US population. Over 80% of the population don’t even know they have it. Once digested, gluten irritates a persons immune system. In fact, it irritates it to the point in which it damages the small intestines. This greatly affects its natural ability to absorb essential vitamins and nutrients. If left untreated it could cause serious health issues including autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, thyroid dysfunction, and cancer.
In the case of autoimmune disease, the body recognizes gluten as a foreign entity and drastically attacks itself to the point it can cause irreversible damage. But there is good news. The solution is to simply avoid gluten. This may seem like an easy solution but wait until you see how much of the American diet contains gluten. This day and age, convent fast food is the American way. Unfortunately this makes it extremely difficult for people to completely remove it from there diet.
To make matters worse over 18 million American’s are affected with Gluten sensitivity. In theory, it is similar to Celiac disease but this group can have a completely different set of symptoms. In fact, these they are so different it is often misdiagnosed, as the symptoms are not just restricted to the gastrointestinal tract and may include headaches, foggy mind, joint pain, leg numbness in the hands, feet, arms, and fingers. These vague, non-descriptive symptoms have contributed to a large of people remaining undiagnosed.
3). What Foods Contain Gluten?
There are a large number of processed foods that contain gluten. This makes the simple task of eliminating it extremely difficult. The following is a little of the common foods that contain gluten.
- Wheat Germ
- Graham flour
- Kamut Matzo
- malt/malt flavoring
- Bullion and broths
- Cold Cuts
- French fries
- Processed cheeses
- Malt vinegar
- Soy and teriyaki sauce
- Salad dressings
- Imitation crab meat
- Egg substitute
- Non-dairy creamer
- Fried vegetables
- Canned baked beans
- Chocolate milk
- Breaded foods
- Fruit fillings
- Hot dogs
- Ice cream
- Root Beer
- Energy Bars
- Trail Mix
- Instant Hot drinks
- Flavored coffees
- Blue cheeses
- Wine coolers
- Communion wafers
- Veggie burgers
- Roasted Nuts
- Oat bran
4). What Products Contain Gluten?
This list in of itself is mind-boggling. Practically everything that we eat and drink contains gluten. At first glance, it seems nearly impossible to eliminate everything from your diet. In order to follow a gluten-free diet it seems as if you can literally only eat air and drink water. Well gluten is not only present in the foods we eat and drink. It is also used in various self-care products, and medications. The below list outlines some of the products.
- Lip balm
- Non self-adhesive stamps and envelops
- Vitamins and Supplements
5). What Does Gluten Free Mean?
The reality is that Gluten is in a shitload of foods, drinks, medications, toys, and personal care products. Due to the sheer volume of products it is nearly impossible to completely remove it from your day to day life. So in an effort to help ease the transition. The food, pharmaceutical, and self-care industries have moved to offer gluten-free alternatives. In theory, this is an excellent idea. But with every good act there are potential consequences. Contrary to how it appears, gluten is not in every food. There are some natural non-processed gluten-free foods, such as:
- Fruits and Vegetables
- Unprocessed Beans, seeds, and nuts
- Lean un-processed meats, fish and poultry
- Corn and corneal
- Rice, soy, corn, potato, and bean flour
6). Is Gluten Free Good For You?
How can something that provides a non-gluten solution pose a problem. Well the the answer is a little complicated. Food and drinks that contain gluten either by mother nature or artificial means must undergo a refining process to physically remove gluten. This process in itself raises the cost of these products. Not only are they more expensive, but they are less healthy. When you mechanically remove gluten it also removes key nutrients, and replaces it with increased carbohydrates, sugar, fat, and calories. Gluten-free does not equal a healthier option.
7). Gluten-Free Misconceptions
Over the past few years, there has been a gluten-free health craze. There are numerous gluten-free food options. The thought is eat gluten-free foods is a healthier alternative that will result in improved health and weight loss. Well, this is partly true. Anytime you eliminate processed foods like starches, pastas, and unhealthy grain it will result in improved health. But this has nothing to do with the gluten itself. it has more to do with the types of foods you eat. There is no medical benefit for anyone to remove gluten from their diet, unless you have issues with processing gluten. It simply increases your food costs.
8). Gluten-Free Labels
To make matters worse, individuals with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity must be extremely conscious when they chose to eat processed gluten-free foods. One bad call can result in increased pain and discomfort. In 2014, the FDA mandated that companies can independently test their products for gluten. If products contain fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten it can be labeled as gluten-free. This is a tremendous burden, as you must rely on labels and the honor system. Just think every time you eat or drink at a restaurant you must rely on menu labels and honesty of restaurant staff.
9). The Take Home
In my opinion, relying on gluten-free labels is too risky. If I was stricken with this ailment, I could not in good conscious place my health in the hands of the food and self care product industry. As with all things, you are your best advocate. The best way to ensure your health is to change your lifestyle. Eat foods, beverages, and use products that are naturally gluten-free. This lifestyle requires great sacrifice. But the reward of good health is priceless.