It seems as though everywhere you turn nowadays, gluten-free is the new diet hype. According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly 1.8 million Americans have celiac disease, which is an allergy to a protein called gluten; however, most of these cases are undiagnosed. Stores are filling shelves with gluten-free items and friends are announcing their newest health goal – gluten-free living. “What is the big deal with gluten?” you may ask, and “What exactly is gluten?”
Gluten is a protein found in the starchy portion of many grains. Gluten acts like glue in dough, and thus is responsible for binding ingredients together and making bread stretchy and dense. This is why many gluten-free types of bread are dry and crumbly.
Wheat–including spelt, kamut, farina, durum, bulgur and semolina--is the most obvious source of gluten. A quick scan through any grocery store will reveal that a majority of food products include wheat or white flour, thereby making gluten-free shopping a bit of a challenge. Crackers, soups, condiments, bakery items, breaded meats and even ice cream is bound to contain some wheat-based ingredient, albeit there are several that would not be immediately recognizable. Fortunately, food labels are required to list major allergenic ingredients, including wheat.
Barley is another grain containing a copious amount of gluten. You might think it would be easy to find foods with barley-derived ingredients, but in reality, this is not the case. For example, malt, malt flavoring and malt vinegar are barley derivatives; therefore, they must be avoided by those sensitive to gluten.
Rye and triticale, which is a cross between rye and wheat, are the last major sources of gluten. Found in cereals, crackers and breads, this grain is usually easy to find in an ingredient list. Pumpernickel bread, specifically, is a common source for rye flours. Like barley, rye can be used to make various alcoholic beverages, which should also be avoided on a gluten-free diet.
Rolled oats have presented a unique challenge for the gluten conscience. By themselves, oats do not contain gluten; however, traditional processing of rolled oats occurs on the same equipment as wheat products thereby rendering the oats highly contaminated with gluten from wheat and barley, specifically. Therefore, gluten-sensitive individuals should avoid oats and products made with oats, unless they have been declared gluten-free.
- Mayo Clinic: Most With Celiac Disease Unaware of it, Study Reveals
- Mayo Clinic:Nutrition and Healthy Eating
- European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology: Measurement of Wheat Gluten and Barley Hordeins in Contaminated Oats from Europe, the United States and Canada by Sandwich R5 ELISA
- Annals of Botany: Distribution of Gluten Proteins in Bread Wheat (Triticum aestivum) Grain
Kendra Wright has been actively engaged in studying and living a healthy, nutrient-rich lifestyle for more than 14 years. Wright earned her bachelor's degrees from Indiana University in biology and chemistry, later graduating summa cum laude from the University of Bridgeport with a master's degree in nutrition. Wright continues researching and pursuing education in the areas of functional medicine, evidence based nutrition and general health.