Gluten Free foods are no longer a hard-to-find specialty niche range of products, they’ve become practically mainstream — with a much greater selection of things like gluten free breads, noodles, and even prepared frozen meals popping up at your favorite grocery stores.
Just What “IS” Gluten? Gluten is a naturally occurring complex protein found in all wheat species, rye, barley, triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). It gives breads their resiliency and soft texture, and is super high in protein (Seitan is a wheat gluten high protein product — great tasting and nutritious IF you’re NOT sensitive to gluten!). Gluten is a complex protein, and some individuals find it had to digest. For those who are intolerant, gluten can wreak havoc on their health by causing symptoms ranging from gut inflammation, feeling bloated, headaches, subtle allergic and immunological responses (which are often difficult to diagnose because they’re so subtle) — to the extreme of a syndrome called “Leaky Gut Syndrome” (which is sometimes described as a micro-ulceration of the digestive system).
An inflammation or allergic response in the digestive system can make it harder for your system to absorb essential vitamins and nutrients from your food, which can lead to subtle malnutrition — leaving you open to far more serious health problems.
Some grains and grain-like foods which do not contain gluten are quinoa, rice, tapioca, buckwheat, millet, teff, amaranth, sorghum and oats.
Some wheat grains and wheat-based foods include: spelt, wheat germ and bran, wheat berry, couscous, Durham, Bulgar, farina, Einkorn, semolina, udon noodles, Seitan, graham, Matza and wheat grass, and triticale.
What Are Some Common Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance?
Some common signs that you may have gluten intolerance after eating a gluten-containing food are things such as a feeling of being bloated, and interestingly either diarrhea OR constipation. Other, more subtle symptoms can be aches in your joints (even tingling or numbness), headaches, skin rash which may be itchy, fatigue, loss of concentration and general irritability or depression (which isn’t surprising, considering how lousy those other symptoms make you feel…). Some longer term effects can include slowed child development, weight gain (from too many wheat-based high carb processed) or weight loss and potential nutritional deficiencies (from poor absorption of dietary nutrients).
Celiac disease is a serious gluten intolerance which triggers your body’s immune system to attack itself, caused by an inflammatory reaction to gliadin (a family of gluten proteins). The inflammation is triggered in the small intestine, inhibiting your body’s ability to absorb food nutrients. Celiac disease has a genetic component and can follow family lines. Because the symptoms can be subtle, it may be more common than one thinks. If left untreated, Celiac disease may trigger more serious disorders such as Type 1 Diabetes.
If you think you may be sensitive to wheat and gluten products, try switching to a gluten free diet and see if your overall health improves. One of my favorites is Quinoa:
Quinoa Grain: Gluten free and high in protein, Quinoa is sometimes listed as a “Super Food.” One of Quinoa’s unique additional attributes is that it is rich in the amino acid lysine — missing from many grains and vital for the absorption of calcium (which helps regulate muscle contractions and bone health). Lysine also helps your body produce essential enzymes and hormones. Quinoa is one of those rare foods which is called a “complete protein,” containing all eight essential amino acids for complete digestion and maximizing your ability to absorb nutrients from your food.
And so you don’t feel like you’re missing out, here’s a few Gluten Free Food Tips:
- Gluten free recipes and desserts can be made by substituting regular flours with gluten-free flours. (Bread is tricky though, since the resilience of gluten gives bread it’s soft light texture.)
- There are many beautiful gluten free cookbooks readily available nowadays — experiment!
- Naturally gluten free foods are: meat, poultry, fish and other seafoods, dairy and eggs, nuts, beans, fruits and vegetables.
- Low carbohydrate (Low-Carb) diets are often naturally low in gluten based foods, and are considered very heart-friendly, delicious (and weight friendly, too!).
- Read labels — many processed foods contain additives which contain some form of gluten
- Check out your specialty (or Asian) food section for tofu or yam noodles — they make a great substitute for wheat-based pastas!