What is gluten?
Gluten is a general term that’s used to name the proteins that are present in wheat, rye and barley. The word “gluten” is derived from the Latin word for glue, and that definition aptly describes what gluten does when baked into bread. Gluten-filled flour is the glue that holds all the ingredients together. In fact, it’s the gluten that gives bread and other baked goods their elasticity, chewy texture and structure. Many societies rely on wheat and other glutinous grains for everyday staples including pasta, breakfast cereal and, as mentioned, bread.
Any flour made with wheat, rye or barley contains gluten because it is a part of the endosperm of these grains. It is not possible to separate the gluten from the flour. This is particularly problematic for people that have celiac disease because they are not able to enjoy many everyday items like wheat bread and semolina pasta. However, not all grains contain gluten, so it is possible for those with gluten sensitivities to use grain flour to bake their own gluten free breads and baked goods.
Many processed foods that you might not expect also contain gluten. Furthermore, many everyday items such as prescription medication, vitamins and lipstick may also contain gluten. In these cases, it’s typically used as an additive, and if the product is not food-based, there may not be a label which spells out the ingredients. However, manufacturers will provide consumers with an ingredient list upon request. Generally speaking, it’s important to learn how gluten might be hiding in products, as well as how to quickly recognize it. While overwhelming at first, it will soon become second nature.
Despite these seemingly overwhelming restrictions, people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease can eat a well-balanced diet filled with a variety of delicious foods. Many substitutes are available that can take the place of wheat flour in a recipe, such as those made from potato, rice, soy or bean. A surprising variety of gluten free food, including bread, pasta and cereals, are available from manufacturers that specialize in providing food options for people with celiac disease. As celiac disease becomes more recognizable, more and more products are showing up on store shelves.
Eating a gluten free diet will likely require a completely new approach to choosing food, whether it’s finding a quick snack or doing the weekly grocery shopping. Eating out can be a challenge, but more and more restaurants are beginning to offer a menu that includes gluten free foods. The best thing you can do to ease this transition is to learn more about the foods that can and cannot be consumed when following a gluten free diet. For example, fresh fish, fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten free, so people with celiac disease can eat them freely. Further, although oats have traditionally been on the gluten free blacklist, many experts now suggest that it’s okay to eat a small amount of oats, as long as the manufacturer takes great care in avoiding cross-contamination with gluten-filled grains. It is advisable to discuss oats with your healthcare provider prior to preparing your first bowl of oatmeal or baking your first batch of oatmeal raisin cookies.
What Grains Contain Gluten?
- Wheat, including durum, faro, kamut, semolina, spelt and einkorn
- Some oats
What Grains Don’t Contain Gluten?
- Some oats
What Common Foods (Most Likely) Contain Gluten?
- Baked goods
- Soy sauce
- Processed meats
- Salad dressing
- French fries
- Bouillon cubes
- Communion wafers