Not too long ago, it seemed no one cared much about gluten. You ate bread, a cookie, a bowl of pasta, and maybe you felt fine. Or maybe you felt bloated, fatigued, experienced abdominal pain, or even depression. The link between poor health and gluten has become a hot topic, and with more awareness on intolerance to it, the more questions people have. Going gluten-free for beginners requires education and a game plan. But where do you even start?
What is gluten, and are you gluten-intolerant?
The first place to start is to have a decent grasp on what gluten is, and why people reject it.
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley. Less than one percent of Americans suffer from celiac disease. This autoimmune disorder gives rise to antibodies that attack the small intestine following the ingestion of gluten.
The symptoms at first can be merely uncomfortable, like a stomachache, gas, and diarrhea, but as the disorder unfolds, over time, ingestion of gluten destroys the small intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients. This results in extreme weight loss, anemia, and chronic fatigue. Celiac disease is currently diagnosed via a process of exclusion. If a patient tests negative for it, but symptoms improve on a gluten-free diet, they are diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness reports that as many as 18 million Americans may have NCGS. But there are a growing number of people adopting a gluten-free diet without having such conditions. A 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine reported that, while between 2009-10 0.52 percent of Americans ate gluten-free despite not having celiac disease, and 1.69 percent between 2013-14, the proportion has more than tripled.
Avoiding gluten is at first a tricky task, however, but our tips on going gluten-free for beginners can help show you the way.
Gluten hides in many foods, so you need to know its many names.
While it would be nice to simply toss out grains like wheat, spelt, rye, barley, farro, kamut, and semolina, and call it gluten-free good, there are plenty of other places gluten is hiding. The standard American diet is, unfortunately, a processed food nightmare, and with that comes a whole lot of gluten. To avoid it, you’re going to have to be one smart investigator. Read labels of packaged foods like you’re looking for the culprit of a crime.
While food companies must list allergens on the label, such as eggs and nuts, they do not have to list other names for gluten. Much like salt has many different names (baking soda, baking powder, monosodium glutamate, disodium phosphate), and sugar (anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup) on food labels, so does gluten.
Love swirling your sushi in soy sauce? Unfortunately, soy sauce is made with fermented wheat. Is your comfort food a big bowl of soup or savory sauce-covered piece of meat? Flour serves as a thickener for many soups and sauces. Gluten is used to stabilize ingredients in products including ketchup, mustard, and pre-made marinades.
Licorice, your best friend since you can remember, contains wheat. Many vegetarian and vegan products contain wheat to give the product its chewy texture. Plus, processed meats like hot dogs and sausages usually contain flour for texture, filler, or as a thickening agent. Even spice blends like taco mixes often contain gluten.
The bottom line is that it’s just not enough to assume something is gluten-free. The certification should be present, and you need to be really diligent about checking labels.