The gluten free diet has increased in popularity and, for many, has gone from a lifestyle choice to full-on necessity in maintaining proper health. Those who choose to limit or avoid gluten altogether know why they’re doing it, but for the rest of us, it’s a completely valid question. What’s the deal with the gluten free diet?
What Is Gluten?
According to Wikipedia, Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat and related grains, including barley and rye. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture.
Where Is Gluten?
It’s found in obvious places like breads and wheat-based pasta, but there are also some not so obvious places where Gluten might be hanging out:
Okay, it might be obvious if you think about it, but Gluten is known for providing elasticity and that isn’t a quality you think about when it comes to many liquids.
- Soy Sauce
Many brands add wheat to the soybean-based sauce. Sure, it’s essentially a condiment and should be easy to avoid, but a lot of diners don’t realise that soy sauce is used liberally in the preparation of many Asian styles of cooking: Korean food chiefly among them.
But… but… it’s a vegetable! Unfortunately, some pickling processes use malt vinegar, which often contains gluten.
- Gravy and sauces
At home, you can use other thickening agents, but at restaurants they may be using flour.
- Hot Dogs
Read the package – there might be gluten inside that hot dog. Of course you might also find a whole bunch of other stuff you aren’t so fond of eating in there too.
Gluten is used as a binding agent in a number of vitamins.
It may at this point seem like the food world is just screwing with us, but both red and black licorice often contains wheat.
What Will Gluten Do To Me?
It depends on who you are and whom you ask, but celiac disease is a real condition in which the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten, leading to difficulty in digesting food.
According to a 2009 article published in Gastroenterology, celiac disease has increased by a factor of five among the population over the past 50 years. Also, many experts claim that a large segment of the population aren’t even aware that they are suffering from celiac disease or some form of gluten intolerance.
Some symptoms of celiac disease:
- Digestive problems, such as bloating, pain, gas, diarrhea and weight loss
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Growth problems in children
- Severe skin rash
- Ulcers of the mouth
However there are a host of other malaise that individuals who are unaware of their mild intolerance to gluten may be suffering from. It’s possible that bloating sensation you’ve been dealing with lately is actually from ingesting gluten.
It’s a baffling question. Experts speculate that humans have consumed bread and gluten for 30,000 years, so the modern day complications with gluten are curious at best; troubling and mysterious with no agreed upon theory at worst.
- Wheat has changed
We’ve hybridized wheat to make it more resilient and profitable. As a result, today’s wheat contains new proteins that humans of the past never ate.
It’s sort of an ominous word and Google tells us it’s a chemical reaction in which an amide functional group is removed from an organic compound. In practice, it makes wheat water soluble and able to be added to almost anything.
- Wheat can be added to almost anything
The increased use of wheat as a binding agent for processed foods is another thing our ancestors’ digestive systems didn’t have to deal with. There is much speculation that the volume of gluten we now eat alone could be the culprit.
- Extreme herbicide use
Over the past few decades, a method that involves dousing wheat in herbicide before harvest has become commonplace. The herbicide isn’t supposed to be harmful to humans, but it does seem like a reasonable place to start playing the causation versus correlation game.
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What Can I Do?
The gluten paradox is that because there is so much of it everywhere, there are all kinds of ways to find it nowhere. Apart from dedicated gluten free brands, even major brands are offering gluten free options to many of their products including gluten free breads, gluten free beer, gluten free pasta and gluten free desserts. Restaurants offer gluten-free menus and even pet food can be found that won’t subject animal family members to the perils of gluten.
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What You Should Do
Of course the prevalence and variety of gluten-free options won’t matter if you don’t scrutinize what you eat. Ultimately, it’s up to the individual to be vigilant about reading the ingredients on food packets and seeking out information on what they make their diet – which is probably a wise habit, regardless of your need for gluten awareness.