Are you curious about the mysterious gluten, why it’s been in the news lately, and what all of that means for your own diet? Gluten can be confusing. It doesn’t even sound like a word we should eat! But it’s important to understand what it is since many people are avoiding gluten these days – whether they have celiac disease or not. In this post, we’ll dive into what exactly gluten is (hint: it’s found in some of our favourite foods) and why certain individuals need to steer clear of it.
Gluten has become a buzzword in the food industry, but what exactly is it, and why are some people avoiding it? Gluten, a protein existing primarily in wheat, barley, and rye products, can be found across the world. It has been a staple ingredient in the human diet for thousands of years, but recently, there has been a rise in gluten-free diets and products. Let’s dive deeper into this protein:
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein that gives bread its elasticity and helps it rise. It is a combination of two proteins, glutenin and gliadin, that form when wheat flour is mixed with water. Gluten is not only found in wheat but also in other grains like barley and rye. There are different types of gluten, such as vital wheat gluten, which is used in baking to increase the protein content of bread.
Gluten plays a crucial role in the food industry because it gives products their texture and shape. It is used in a variety of foods, including bread, pasta, cereals, and even beer.
Why Do Some People Avoid Gluten?
Some people avoid gluten due to medical reasons, while others choose to do so as part of a healthy lifestyle. Here are some of the reasons why people avoid gluten:
- Celiac Disease: Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the small intestine when gluten is consumed. It affects about 1% of the population and can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhoea.
- Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a condition in which people experience symptoms similar to celiac disease but without damage to the small intestine. The symptoms can include bloating, abdominal pain, and fatigue.
- Wheat Allergy: Wheat allergy is a rare condition in which the immune system overreacts to wheat proteins. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and include hives, itching, and difficulty breathing.
- Other reasons for avoiding gluten: Some people choose to avoid gluten as part of a healthy lifestyle or to manage conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
The Impact of Gluten-Free Diets
The rise of gluten-free diets has led to an increase in gluten-free products, but is this trend beneficial? Here are some of the impacts of gluten-free diets:
- The rise of gluten-free products: The demand for gluten-free products has increased significantly in recent years, and food manufacturers have responded by creating more gluten-free options.
- The benefits and drawbacks of gluten-free diets: While a gluten-free diet is necessary for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, there is no evidence that it is beneficial for people without these conditions. In fact, a gluten-free diet can be more expensive and may lead to nutrient deficiencies if not properly planned.
- Misconceptions about gluten-free diets: There are many misconceptions about gluten-free diets. Such as the idea that they are inherently healthier or that they can help with weight loss.
How to eat gluten-free while dining out
Dining out with dietary restrictions can be a bit of a challenge, but eating gluten-free is definitely doable. Before you head to the restaurant, do some research and check out their online menu or call ahead to make sure they have gluten-free options. When ordering, don’t be afraid to ask questions and make special requests. For example, if you’re ordering a salad, ask for the dressing on the side and double-check that there are no croutons included. If you’re ordering a sandwich, ask if they have gluten-free bread or if you can have it wrapped in lettuce instead. And don’t forget to alert your server or the chef about your allergy or sensitivity so that they can take necessary precautions to avoid cross-contamination. With a bit of planning, dining gluten-free can still be a delicious and stress-free experience!
Tips Gluten-Free Living
If you need to follow a gluten-free diet, here are some tips to help you navigate the world of gluten-free living:
- Read labels carefully: Look for gluten-free certification symbols or read the ingredient list carefully to avoid hidden sources of gluten.
- Learn which foods are naturally gluten-free: Incorporating more whole foods into your diet, such as fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products, are naturally gluten-free.
- Find gluten-free alternatives for your favourite foods: There are many gluten-free alternatives available, such as gluten-free bread, pasta, and flour, to replace your favourite gluten-containing foods.
- Be cautious of cross-contamination: Gluten-free foods can still become contaminated with gluten if they come into contact with gluten-containing foods or surfaces. Be cautious when preparing and cooking food.
- Be aware of hidden sources of gluten: Gluten can be found in unexpected places like soy sauce, condiments, and even medications. Make sure to check all labels carefully.
- Join a support group: Connecting with others who are also following a gluten-free diet can be helpful for finding resources and getting support.
- Experiment with new foods: A gluten-free diet can be an opportunity to try new foods and explore different cuisines. There are many gluten-free recipes and meal plans available online to help you plan your meals and snacks.
Remember, following a gluten-free diet can be challenging, but it is essential for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. With the right tools and support, living a gluten-free lifestyle can be manageable and enjoyable.
That wraps up our exploration of gluten and why some people choose to avoid it. While most people can consume glutinous foods without any complications, those that experience issues may need to make changes in their diet if they wish to alleviate their symptoms.
Fortunately, there are a number of gluten-free brands out there that offer delicious alternatives for people who want or need to stay away from gluten. Whether you decide to take the plunge and embark on a gluten-free lifestyle or simply opt for an occasional gluten-free snack, at least now you know what gluten is and how it might affect your body.