6 Things to Know About Going Gluten-Free
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Like most people, you probably think of gluten as a type of flour used in baking. But gluten is something else entirely for the millions of people who suffer from celiac disease, gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity.
This article will discuss six things you need to know about going gluten-free, whether for health reasons or otherwise. We’ll run the gambit, from the basics of gluten to using gluten intolerance supplements to make life easier. And if you’re not the one going gluten-free, it will help you understand why your friend, family member or loved one has chosen this path.
1) Understand What Gluten Is
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It gives bread its chewy texture and helps beer maintain its foamy head. For some people, gluten triggers an immune response that can damage the small intestine lining. Folks in this category have what’s known as celiac disease. However, it is also possible to have a gluten allergy, sensitivity or gluten intolerance, which can vary in severity, resulting in mild gastrointestinal discomfort to full-blown anaphylactic shock.
2) Beware: Gluten Is Everywhere
Unfortunately for those of us choosing a gluten-free journey in life, gluten is in many foods we eat daily. It’s often used as a food additive because it’s inexpensive and acts as a stabilizer or thickener. This means that it can be found in everything from soups and sauces to processed meats and even some ice creams.
It’s important to read food labels carefully and look for a stamp or seal certifying the product as gluten-free. Remember that spices, herbs and other ingredients may also contain gluten from cross-contamination during manufacturing. Start finding products you can trust and make them your go-to items.
3) The Damage Gluten Does
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten leads to damage to the small intestine. This can cause many problems, including nutrient malabsorption, weight loss and fatigue. Unfortunately, there is no cure for celiac disease, and someone with it will never be able to safely ingest gluten again.
Even non-celiac gluten sensitivity or intolerance can cause abdominal pain and bloat. But these folks may be able to consume small amounts relatively issue-free by taking gluten digestive enzymes with their meals. And for those with a wheat allergy, consuming gluten can cause hives, swelling and difficulty breathing.
An estimated two million Americans have celiac disease, and up to 18 million deal with gluten intolerance. So that’s roughly six percent of the population who need to stay away or moderate their gluten intake.
4) It’s Easier Than You Think
Given what we said before about gluten being everywhere, you might have gotten the impression that being gluten-free is really tough. That’s not the case anymore. Yes, you will have to forgo some of your favorite foods. But with the number of gluten-free products on the market today, it’s easier than ever to find delicious replacements for the things you love.
There are gluten-free breads, pastas, pizzas and even beers. In addition, you’ll find many condiments, sauces and other products proudly displaying their gluten-free labels at the grocery store. There are even entire bakeries devoted to serving up gluten-free treats and sweets in many cities. And many restaurants are now offering multiple gluten-free options as well. Just check with your server about cross-contamination, as even trace amounts of gluten can cause problems for those with celiac disease or a gluten allergy.
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5) A Gluten-Free Diet Is Not a Fad Diet
Many folks are quick to call the current trend of eating gluten-free a fad diet. The truth is, there has been a need to eat a gluten-free diet for centuries, long before it was trendy. Dr. Stefano Guandalini, writing for the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center, recounts a brief history of celiac disease. He explains how, in the first century AD, a Greek physician named Aretaeus of Cappadocia wrote about it. He called it “koiliakos” after the Greek word “koelia,” which means abdomen. This was because the primary symptom was abdominal pain. Unfortunately for them, there were no digestive health supplements to help out during these difficult times of poor digestion. Since then, there have been many other medical reports and descriptions of the condition, with most starting around the 19th century and moving forward.
The bottom line is that a gluten-free diet is nothing new. However, it’s only recently that we’ve become more aware of the prevalence of gluten sensitivities and celiac disease. And as more and more people are diagnosed, the market for gluten-free products will only continue to grow.
6) Health Benefits – Even If You Don’t Have Celiac Disease
While the only people who need to be 100 percent gluten-free are those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or a wheat allergy, that doesn’t mean the diet can’t offer some benefits to everyone else.
For instance, going gluten-free can help you lose weight. This is because many gluten-containing foods are also high in calories and carbs. So when you cut them out, you’ll likely see the number on the scale go down. In addition, a gluten-free diet can also help reduce inflammation throughout the body. This is important because chronic inflammation has been linked to serious health conditions, including heart disease, arthritis and cancer.
So, even if you don’t have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, there are still good reasons to consider going gluten-free.
Final Thoughts on Going Gluten-Free
For some, it’s a choice; for others, a necessity. However, whatever the reason, we should always be mindful and respectful of people’s dietary restrictions. With that in mind, we hope this article has helped clear up some of the confusion around the gluten-free diet and given you a better understanding of what it’s all about.
Have you gone gluten-free? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments below and keep the conversation going.