By Joshua Burton
Gluten seems to be the topic of a lot of health discussions going on right now. Products with the label of “gluten-free” are popping up all over the supermarket and people on wheat-free diets seem to be growing in popularity. While this may seem like a fad and easy to dismiss, especially given all the misinformation revolving around the subject, let’s take a look at the mysteries behind the new trend and the availability of great foods without the need for that mystery substance known as gluten.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein composite (gliadin and glutenin) found in wheat, rye and barley. It contributes to dough elasticity, so these grains are used when making nice, fluffy bread. Many gluten-free products and breads are notable for their lack of fluff and a general density that many who are new to baking without wheat are turned off by. There is no replacing gluten, but there are several alternatives that can create a similar quality to bread.
Why is Gluten bad?
We’ve gone over some of the harmful effects gluten can have on your body already, and some studies show that as many as a third of the population has undiagnosed negative reaction to gluten, which expresses itself in less obvious ways than those who have sensitivity or outright intolerance. The problem here is that many people are allergic to gluten. Most people have an intolerance to it, and have negative reactions once food laced with gluten hit the small intestine. It can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, joint pain and even constipation. For some people the allergic reaction is even more severe and can result in difficulty breathing or swallowing, pale skin, tightness in the chest, and even dizziness.
So why is this gluten-free thing catching on?
Well, often when a dietary fad catches on, it is related to weight loss. Cutting out gluten from your eating habits for many people includes dropping breads and other complex carbohydrates like pasta. For anyone who remembers the Atkins Diet, low-carb eating has been popular for decades. However, ironic as it is, many people who suffer from gluten-related issues often see an increase in weight, as their body isn’t immediately rejecting gluten-saturated foods before absorbing all the nutrients. Their bodies are now absorbing foods naturally, the way most of ours do. Many studies show gluten intolerance is on the rise, but much more research is needed to substantiate these claims. People whose families show a lot of type 1 diabetes occurrences are seen as being at greater risk of gluten allergies.
Ok, so I want to cut out gluten. How do I do that?
Well, it isn’t always easy. This may or may not be surprising, but gluten (most commonly wheat) is in a lot of products. It is used as a filler in many processed foods in order to thicken their consistency. Sauces – often the basis of many of our favorite flavors – are notorious carriers of gluten. Everything from salad dressings to soy sauce usually have wheat on their list of ingredients. Essentially, the list of ingredients is the most useful tool for anyone with a gluten allergy. If you spot wheat, rye, or barley you’re out of luck.
If you are avoiding gluten for allergy reasons, cross-contamination is also a common way it has of getting into your system – and the longer you go without gluten the more sensitive you tend to get to it. The pizza joint near your house that has gluten-free pizzas may start to give you diarrhea. That’s because, while there’s no wheat in the dough, it may have been rolled on a surface that had some wheat flour left on it and….there you go. Even small amounts can affect you once you become more sensitive.
Luckily, there are plenty of great foods out there that are easy and don’t need wheat to taste good. Check out the food bookmarks in your WebRoom for a great selection of websites that both have gluten-free recipes or are exclusively devoted to gluten-free foods.
Hit up Glutenlibre for great resources for information and activism to help get the word out and educate people on gluten allergies.
For great recipes, check out Gluten Free Life. This is an award-winning blog that offers tons of great GF recipes sorted into great categories – because sometimes you don’t want to think of dishes as simply “breakfast, lunch or dinner.”
Probably one of the best GF recipe blogs is Gluten-Free Goddess. This site has a beautiful layout and has probably one of the most extensive lists of recipes for people with gluten allergies.
Gluten Free Girl and the Chef is another cute little site about the gluten allergy and family. It revolves around a girl, her love for food, and a chef who also loves her – and food. It’s super cute. It mostly has frameworks for cooking without wheat. The section on gluten-free baking is very good and the photography is beautiful.
Maybe now you’re a little better armed to deal with the world of gluten-free living. Even if you don’t have problems with wheat and such, at least you know what all the hubbub is. Some people profess that you feel much healthier after a couple weeks of avoiding wheat, which is great. There are many helpful resources out there for researching and finding more about nutrition and your relation to what you consume. Go crazy. Bookmark to your heart’s content. Remember, myWebRoom is all about customization. Fit your room and your bookmarks to fit your lifestyle. Happy eating, everyone!