Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Gluten-Free Tuesday!

As I was trying to figure out another delicious recipe to post for those of us trying to lead a gluten-free (GF) lifestyle, it occurred to me that many people don't even know about gluten, gluten intolerance, and why GF foods, cookbooks and other products have seemed to explode over the past few years. So this, my friends, is a very brief introduction to gluten, Celiac Disease, and, of course, your options for a GF lifestyle, regardless of if it is necessary or not.

Gluten is a composite of the proteins gliadin and glutenin. It exists only in grass grains, most notably wheat, rye and barely. Gluten gives dough its elasticity when kneading, makes breads chewy, allows it to rise and stabilizes the shape. Because it is such a wonderful source of protein, gluten is frequently added into low-protein foods (hence why it is in almost EVERYTHING now!).
Unfortunately, many people are allergic to or have an intolerance to gluten. It has also been suggested that even people who are not gluten intolerant should adapt a GF lifestyle (you would, ideally, be consuming more fruits and vegetables, since most processed foods contain gluten).

Celiac (Coeliac) Disease is the most severe form of gluten intolerance, and is also considered the most under-diagnosed disease affecting Americans today. It is a chronic and inherited disease. In short, foods containing gluten damage the villi in the small intestine (and trigger the disease). Then, when more foods containing gluten are consumed, there is further damage to the villi and no nutrients are absorbed from the food. Instead, it is passed along quickly through your intestines...

Sounds uncomfortable, right? Unfortunately, the reason why this is such an under-diagnosed disease is because the symptoms are common to many health problems, or are brushed off as "minor". While there are several symptoms, and more are being found daily, here are some of the most common: bloating, diarrhea or constipation, fatigue/weakness, muscle cramps, bone pain, weight loss, anemia, and premature osteoporosis. Many times, patients with celiac are misdiagnosed as having IBS, spastic colon/bowel syndrome, or Crohn's disease (a form of inflammatory bowel disease). The only way to be sure if you have celiac is to go to your doctor and request a celiac panel (blood will need to be taken) and switch to a GF diet and see if that helps.
Aside from celiac disease, many people have more mild allergic reactions. These reactions are similar to the more mild symptoms of celiac, but do not damage the villi and are usually triggered by something (age, stress, hormones, et cetera). The sensitivity can be chronic or not, and the only way to tell if you have a sensitivity is to pay attention to how you feel in the hours after eating foods with gluten. Are you tired? Bloated? Have diarrhea? You may have a gluten sensitivity.
It is also important to note that celiac and gluten sensitivities can affect multiple organs, not just your GI tract. It is possible to have a skin allergy to gluten! Food for Thought carries skin care, make up, and laundry detergents that are all GF.
So what are your GF options? Luckily for all of us, because of the increased awareness of celiac and gluten intolerances, many GF food companies have started and several other companies have developed GF foods. A few of my favorite companies are Enjoy Life, Grainless Baker, WOW!, and Glutino. Pamela's has amazing pancake mixes (among others) and Bob's Red Mill has a GF line of products that are yummy, too! Thanks to these companies, and several others, there are so many pastas, pizza crusts, mixes, dairy products, and sweets, you'll never miss eating gluten-loaded foods!
If you want more information, come into Food for Thought and ask!

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