Understanding Gluten - What Is It & Why Go Gluten-Free?
Gluten has gone from being an unrecognizable part of many favorite foods to a hot-button topic in the past decade. Everyone from doctors to celebrities seems to be suggesting gluten-free diets as a cure-all for various ailments. Restaurants commonly serve gluten-free foods, and entire sections of major grocery stores are now dedicated to stocking gluten-free ingredients. However, its sudden notoriety does not mean that gluten is well understood, and many people are left asking, “What is gluten anyway?”
Gluten is a protein found in many grains such as wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and oats. It provides elasticity to doughs and batters. When present in breads and other baked goods, gluten helps the dough rise and gives the final product the heavenly chewiness that good pastries have. Gluten is naturally occurring and does not require any mixing or reaction to appear. Usually, this is not a big deal; however, the protein causes a problem in the digestive tract for certain people.
Gluten Intolerances and Celiac Disease
Some people experience bloating, diarrhea, headaches, and joint pain after eating foods with gluten. The most serious form of gluten intolerance is celiac disease, which affects 0.7 to one percent of the population. Celiac causes the immune system to attack gluten particles as if they were a virus or another invader. In assailing the particles, the immune system also attacks the lining of the digestive system. This can lead to many serious health problems and permanent small intestine damage. Not only should people with celiac disease avoid consuming gluten, but they should also be careful to avoid any traces of it or cross-contamination, as even the smallest amount can trigger an immune response.
Celiac disease isn’t the only form of gluten intolerance – about 0.5 to 13 percent of people suffer from a less severe reaction called “non-celiac gluten sensitivity.” Those with this condition experience the same unpleasant side effects when consuming gluten but don’t seem to suffer the permanent internal damage. Additionally, these intolerances do not react the same way to trace amounts of gluten or cross-contamination. However, very little research has been done on gluten sensitivity, and not much is known about people with this intolerance.
The Gluten-Free Lifestyle
Though a gluten-free diet is life-saving for many people, others use it as a tool to lose weight or be healthier. However, there is little proof that gluten aids in either of these endeavors. Because of its popularity, though, many people wonder, “Is gluten bad?” On the contrary, experts believe that if no reaction occurs, eating gluten is a good thing due to the fibers and vitamins present in glutinous grains.
If you feel that a gluten-free lifestyle may be right for you, there are thousands of products and resources to help you start. Nutmeg State Nutrition has a wide selection of gluten-free foods that fit seamlessly into your diet plan. With a little bit of awareness and ingredient substitution, making the switch to gluten-free is a breeze.
Contact us today to learn more about our gluten-free products!