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What The Gluten?

By Gretchen Hein

Many people are exploring gluten-free diets, but what exactly does this mean? Gluten-free refers to a diet free of the gluten protein found in many grains. Gluten, a tough elastic protein, can be found in wheat, rye and barley, as well as kamut, spelt and triticale (a wheat/rye hybrid). It is what allows bread to expand and rise. Specifically, the amino acid cystine, which gives gluten its elastic and expandable qualities, is the problem. It is very difficult to breakdown and digest. For someone whose intestinal system is compromised, undigested proteins are the perfect nourishment for unfavorable, putrefying bacteria. In addition gluten tends to stick to intestinal walls and combine with another hard-to-digest protein, casein. In combination these two create all sorts of havoc, blocking the absorption of essential nutrients, making the removal of waste material extremely difficult (constipation), and placing an enormous toxic burden on the body, making it vulnerable to an infinite amount of chronic conditions.

Gluten can also create an allergic response when partially digested gluten is absorbed into the bloodstream. Gluten is one of the few substances that does not have to be digested in order to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, it is not recognized as “self” and an allergic reaction may ensue, often causing bloating, gas, water retention and/or a runny nose.

A gluten-free diet is a must for those with celiac disease, an immune disorder of the intestinal tract; dermatitis herpetiformis, a skin disorder (not related in any way to the virus herpes); and Crohn’s disease, a dysfunction of the small intestine. But many people unaffected by the above diseases are exploring gluten-free diets. Others are discovering sensitivity to gluten, for which symptoms vary widely. Additionally, in recent years there has been growing evidence that those who suffer from certain forms of schizophrenia, autism and multiple sclerosis benefit from a gluten-free diet, seeing a marked improvement in symptoms when gluten is eliminated. The scientific data exploring the link between autism and gluten is mixed, and the trials exploring the benefits of a gluten-free, casein-free diet are inconclusive at this time despite anecdotal evidence.

For many, it doesn’t take much gluten to create a reaction. And, it shows up in so many unexpected foods—sauces, gravies, custards, soups, thickeners and stabilizers being the main culprits. Even medications and vitamin supplements may contain gluten as an inactive ingredient.

While all this may have been a challenge at one time, that is no longer the case. Gluten-free products are numerous and recipes are plentiful. The web is full of information, products and recipes. So if gluten-free is a health concern of yours, don’t despair, options are plentiful.

You don’t have to tackle gluten-free eating alone. There are many people going through the same struggles. Check out the following links.

For helpful info, tips and recipes, visit:

For shopping, the Celiac Disease Foundation recommends:

  • The Essential Gluten-Free Grocery Guide, 2nd Edition (paperback)
  • Cecelia’s Marketplace Gluten-Free, Grocery Shopping Guide (paperback)

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