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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Gluten Explained

Gluten-free diets are one of the latest health trends, but is it right for everyone?

Gluten is a protein found in certain grains. Some people are sensitive or allergic to gluten. In fact, it's one of the most common food allergens. And in certain individuals, gluten can trigger an autoimmune reaction called celiac disease, in which the body attacks itself, destroying the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, causing diarrhea, gas, bloating, malnutrition and weight loss.

People who are not sensitive to gluten do not need to avoid it. Gluten-free foods are only beneficial for people who cannot tolerate gluten. For those who aren't sure, they should strictly avoid gluten for one month, then re-introduce it and observe the effects.

Grains that contain gluten include
  • Wheat 
  • Barley
  • Rye 
  • Bulgur
  • Kamut
  • Triticale
  • Spelt
  • Contaminated oats
Although oats should not contain gluten, some do. Contamination happens when oats are processed in facilities that also process grains like wheat, barley and rye, or in fields where oats are grown next to these gluten-containing crops.

Foods that contain these grains also contain gluten, like
  • Foods made with flour: pasta, breakfast cereals, bread and other baked goods
  • Bran
  • Germ
  • Malt
  • Durum
  • Semolina
  • Starch
  • Bread crumbs
  • Couscous
  • Seitan
  • Some varieties of tempeh 
  • Soy Sauce
  • Beer
  • Whiskey
Many processed foods also contain gluten as an additive, so it's important to read food labels and ingredient lists carefully. Gluten may be disguised under terms like
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Natural flavoring
  • Vegetable gum
Gluten-free grains include
  • Rice (brown rice and wild rice are better choices than white, jasmine, basmati or arborio rices because they are more nutritious and less processed)
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Buckwheat (also called kasha)
  • Amaranth
  • Teff
It's also important to note that many people feel best when they avoid grains all together, whether or not they are not sensitive to gluten. Starchy foods like grains and flour are quickly digested and flood the body with sugar, causing a spike in insulin. Over time, high levels of blood sugar and insulin increase the risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

To find gluten-free restaurants in your area, search the database of the Gluten Intolerance Group by state or zip code.

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