Demystifying Gluten: Everything You Need to Know about "Gluten-free"
Are you considering a gluten-free lifestyle? Perhaps you're intrigued by the reputed health benefits of going gluten-free or have been diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Regardless of the reason, understanding what foods contain gluten is crucial for making informed choices about your diet. In this blog post, we will explore the ins and outs of gluten-containing foods and provide valuable insights for those following or considering a gluten-free lifestyle.
Firstly, what is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in certain grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. It is commonly used in many processed foods as a binding agent, filler, or flavour enhancer. Gluten also plays a role in helping maintain the shape of food by imparting elasticity and moisture while enabling bread to rise and yield a chewy texture.
Here are several examples of everyday foods that might contain gluten:
Bread and baked goods: Bread, rolls, bagels, and other baked goods are typically made with wheat flour, which contains gluten. Unless labelled gluten-free, this includes cakes, cookies, muffins, and pastries.
Pasta: Traditional pasta is made with wheat flour and contains gluten. This includes varieties such as spaghetti, macaroni, and lasagna sheets.
Cereals: Many breakfast cereals, particularly those made from wheat, barley, or rye, contain gluten. This includes both hot and cold cereals, such as wheat-based flakes, bran, or puffed cereals.
Beer: Beer is often brewed with gluten-containing grains, such as barley, and can contain gluten unless it is labelled gluten-free
Sauces and condiments: Some sauces and condiments, such as soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and some salad dressings, may contain gluten as an ingredient due to cross-contamination during processing.
Soups and broths: Some soups and broths, particularly those canned or processed, may contain gluten as an ingredient or due to cross-contamination.
Processed foods: Items like snacks, frozen meals, and packaged snacks may contain hidden sources of gluten, such as modified food starch, malt flavouring, or other additives.
Processed meats: Meats like sausages, hot dogs, and deli meats might add gluten as fillers or binders.
Gravies and sauces: Gravies, sauces, and roux made with wheat flour are common sources of gluten.
Grits: Grits are naturally gluten-free food but can be cross-contaminated with gluten during processing or mixed with gluten-containing flavours. To be sure that your grits are gluten-free, look for brands that are labelled "gluten-free".
A Gluten-free diet offers plenty of options since most unprocessed whole foods are allowed. However, some additives can sneak into "gluten-free" foods and cause issues for people with celiac disease.
It's important to note that gluten can also be present in trace amounts due to cross-contamination during processing or handling, which can be a concern for individuals with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity who must strictly avoid gluten. Therefore, it is crucial to read labels carefully and look for gluten-free certifications or specific gluten-free labelling to make safe food choices.
Why should I avoid gluten?
If you're considering adopting a gluten-free lifestyle, you might wonder why some people avoid gluten. One significant reason is celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that impacts the small intestine and is triggered by consuming gluten. People with celiac disease can experience damage to their small intestine lining even from small amounts of gluten, which can cause various symptoms and long-term health issues.
Another condition is non-celiac gluten sensitivity, where individuals experience similar symptoms to celiac disease but do not have the same immune response or intestinal damage. For these individuals, avoiding gluten can alleviate their symptoms and improve their overall well-being.
Suppose you experience abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, "foggy brain," rash, or headache (without damage to the small intestine). In that case, you may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Studies suggest that the immune system might play a role, but researchers are still determining the process.
If you have a wheat allergy, your immune system mistakes gluten or some other wheat protein for a virus or bacterium, creating an antibody response that leads to congestion, breathing difficulties, and other symptoms.
Following a gluten-free diet means avoiding wheat and some other grains and choosing substitutes that offer the same nutrients for a healthy diet. You'll also need to be mindful of the foods you select, their ingredients, and their nutritional content.
It's in everything! How can I avoid gluten?
Implementing a gluten-free diet may initially seem challenging, as gluten is present in many commonly consumed foods. However, with careful planning and education, it is possible to maintain a healthy and balanced gluten-free lifestyle.
If you must buy processed foods, take the time to read the labels to see if they contain gluten. If a food item includes wheat, barley, rye, or triticale - or an ingredient derived from these grains - the label must list the grain's name in the ingredients list.
In compliance with the regulations set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (U.K.), foods labelled "gluten-free" must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. However, New Zealand and Australia have the strictest gluten-free standard globally, which can detect gluten down to 3 parts per million (3 ppm), defined as "nil detected."
Here are a few pointers to assist you in navigating this lifestyle:
Choose naturally gluten-free foods: Plenty of naturally gluten-free foods can be incorporated into your diet. These include fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, and seeds. These foods can form the foundation of your gluten-free lifestyle and provide essential nutrients without the need for processed or packaged foods.
Avoid cross-contamination: Cross-contamination can occur during food preparation, cooking, or storage and can introduce gluten into otherwise gluten-free foods. To prevent cross-contamination, use separate cutting boards, utensils, and cooking equipment for gluten-free and gluten-containing foods. Clean countertops, cooking surfaces, and utensils thoroughly to eliminate any traces of gluten.
Educate yourself about safe grains: While wheat, barley, and rye are common grains that contain gluten, several safe grains can be consumed on a gluten-free diet. These include quinoa, oats (labelled gluten-free) and buckwheat. Incorporate these grains into your diet to add variety and nutrition.
Plan ahead when dining out: Eating out can be challenging when you're gluten-free, as many restaurants may not have gluten-free options or may have a risk of cross-contamination. Research and choose restaurants that offer gluten-free menus or have a good understanding of gluten-free food preparation. Communicate your dietary needs to the server or chef. Ask questions about ingredients and preparation methods to ensure a safe dining experience.
If you must purchase packaged foods, read labels carefully: This is crucial to identify any potential sources of gluten. Look for products that are labelled as gluten-free or have been certified by reputable organisations. Be cautious of hidden sources of gluten, such as modified food starch, malt flavouring, or other additives. It's also important to remember that gluten-free at the supermarket isn't necessarily healthy!
Consult with a healthcare professional: If you are considering a gluten-free lifestyle for health reasons, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian or a gastroenterologist. They can provide personalised guidance, assess your nutrient intake, and monitor your overall health to ensure you are meeting your dietary needs.
A gluten-free lifestyle can benefit individuals with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and other health reasons. Understanding which foods contain gluten and how to make safe food choices is essential for successfully implementing a gluten-free lifestyle.
By reading labels, avoiding cross-contamination, choosing naturally gluten-free foods, educating yourself about safe grains, planning ahead when dining out, and consulting with a healthcare professional, you can confidently navigate a gluten-free diet and optimise your health and well-being. Remember, always seek professional medical advice before making any significant dietary changes to ensure.
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Sources & Credit
- Beyond Celiac - https://www.beyondceliac.org/gluten-free-diet/is-it-gluten-free/
- Mayo Clinic. (2023, January 18). Gluten-free diet. Retrieved March 8, 2023, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/gluten-free-diet/art-20048530
- Hoffman, J. S., & Murray, J. A. (2018). Gluten sensitivity and gluten-free diets. Advances in nutrition, 9(6), 1073S–1080S. doi:10.1093/advances/nzy078
- Sapone, A., & Catassi, C. (2012). Non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Gut, 61(1), 3-8. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2011-301186
- Rubio-Tapia, A., Ludvigsson, J. F., Murray, J. A., Green, P. H. R., Kaukinen, K., Fedorak, R. N., ... & Thompson, A. (2012). 2012 update of the guidelines for the diagnosis and management of celiac disease. Gastroenterology, 142(6), 1330-1351. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2012.03.031
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