Chances are you’ve probably noticed the term “gluten-free” popping up more and more these days. Where grocery stores once had only dedicated a mere corner to the few meager gluten-free products available, there are now several aisles and in some cases, entire sections comprised of these wheat-free products. But unless you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease or been directed by a doctor to avoid gluten, you probably don’t even know what it is. But, contrary to what many health professionals admit, gluten is something everyone should be educated about and should definitely be avoided.
Just What is Gluten Anyway?
You probably don’t associate protein with wheat, but that is exactly what gluten is. Found in grass-type grains such as wheat, barley and rye, gluten is a protein composite that is responsible for the stretchiness and stickiness of breads and pastas. It is also prevalent in all wheat-based products which unfortunately comprises most of the American diet these days.
A Sneaky Substance
If you think you can simply give up bread and pasta to avoid gluten think again. Gluten can be found in the sneakiest of places. Ketchup, BBQ sauce and salad dressings are often supplemented with gluten due to its stabilizing properties. Love to dig into a big bowl of ice cream? Well you may just as well be chowing down on a slice of bread because gluten’s at work there too. Vegetarians are just as easily susceptible to an extra helping of gluten as many meat substitutes, as well as imitation crab meat, are comprised of the gooey stuff.
Seitan, often a vegetarian’s main alternative to soy-based meat alternatives, is made solely from the wheat protein. When a wheat-based dough is kneaded and rinsed repeatedly until all of the starch has been washed off, all that remains is a stretchy gluten substance. Once simmered in broth or liquid, it develops a more firm or “meat-like” consistency. It can then be flavored in a variety of ways to imitate different meat products.
Beer-drinkers also gulp down gluten with every sip and even your faithful canine companion may be unknowingly gobbling up gluten as it’s used in some pet foods to add protein content. It can even show up in cosmetics, cleaning products and even certain medications. As you can see, gluten’s reach extends well beyond bread.
Why Should Gluten be Avoided?
For those diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged by gluten and therefore unable to absorb nutrients, gluten-containing products of any kind cause a host of serious side-effects, the most obvious being gastrointestinal distress.
The number of individuals suffering from gluten-sensitivity is steadily rising. Currently 1 out of every 7 people are diagnosed “gluten-sensitive,” meaning they suffer from some sort of side effect after eating gluten-containing foods. And, there is a laundry list of problems associated with the consumption of gluten. Some of the most notable include:
- Humans weren’t even designed to digest gluten since we lack the specific enzymes to break it down.
- The glycemic index of wheat-based products is incredibly high, which spike insulin levels rapidly.
- Gluten triggers systemic inflammation that can lead to the onset of several autoimmune diseases.
- A wheat-based diet is linked to higher levels of LDL (the bad) cholesterol, which can lead to atherosclerotic plaque buildup.
What to Look For
If you’re looking to avoid gluten, watch out for these ingredients:
- Brewer’s Yeast
- Graham Flour
- Malt Vinegar
Also double-check these products as they can be sneaky sources of gluten:
- Beer, Ale or Lager
- Broths and Soups
- Flavored Coffee and Tea
- Imitation Bacon and Seafood
- Salad Dressing
- Sausage, Hot Dogs and Deli Meat
- Sauces, Marinades and Gravy
- Soy Sauce
Sources for this article include: