Everyone has seen it. Products labeled “Gluten Free” are popping up in all of the stores in the high desert community. These labels are on hamburger helper, cereals, frozen dinners and even on boxes of brownie mix. Why should I care that a product is Gluten Free? More importantly, what is gluten and why are all of these products suddenly telling me that they are free of it? Is this just the latest fad diet?
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a mixture of two proteins that are found in cereal grains such as wheat, rye, barley, and oats. These proteins give dough it’s elastic texture. Without gluten, pizza dough wouldn’t be stretchy, bread wouldn’t be spongy, and many of our soups and sauces wouldn’t be thick. So, if gluten does all of these wonderful things, why would anyone want to buy products without it?
Gluten Allergy or Sensitivity
Gluten is the major allergy producing protein present in wheat, spelt, rye, barley and oats. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of people who are being diagnosed with gluten sensitivity, intolerance, or allergy. For those people, the same adhesive properties that hold bread and cake together interfere with the breakdown and absorption of nutrients. This includes the nutrients from other foods ingested during the same meal. What results is a glued together and constipating lump in your intestine instead of an easily digested and nutritious meal. This may cause symptoms like nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea or constipation. For those who develop full blown celiac disease, the presence of the undigested gluten, may cause your immune system to attack the lining of your small intestine.. As your small intestine becomes increasingly damaged, it becomes less able to absorb nutrients such as vitamin D, iron, and calcium. This inability to absorb vital nutrients from your food can lead to medical conditions such as anemia, osteoporosis, and other health problems.
So there you have it. That’s the big deal about gluten.
Next Week: Gluten Related Illnesses
**Patti is a frequent contributor at SimplyHealthyEats.com, a website dedicated to helping people make healthy food choices. It features recipes, many of which are gluten and dairy free. She can also be found at PattyCakesPantry.com where she tries to limit her blogging to stocking a pantry, budgeting, and recipes. She isn’t always successful.