What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein commonly found in wheat, rye, barley and oats; gluten may be present in foods either as a basic ingredient or added when a food is processed or prepared.

Gluten is a major component of most cereals, breads and other foods such as pasta, rice mixes, pie fillings, creamed vegetables and some commercially prepared salad dressings.

The major role of gluten is to make bread dough elastic and provide a chewy texture when eaten; in addition, gluten acts as a thickener in products like ketchup and ice cream.

Not all foods from the grain family contain gluten, however. Examples of grains that do not have gluten include wild rice, corn, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, quinoa, soybeans, and sunflower seeds.

Gluten is present in a food if it contains wheat, rye, oats or barley or as an additive such as oat gum, wheat starch or hydrolyzed vegetable protein.

What are symptoms of gluten Intolerance?

True gluten intolerance exhibits a variety of symptoms ranging from the uncomfortable to devastating. Gluten intolerance can be called celiac disease; celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disease which damages the villi of the small intestine — essentially the body “attacks itself” every time a person consumes gluten.

When the villa of the small intestine are damaged, the body cannot effectively absorb nutrients from food.

The most common symptoms of gluten intolerance are bloating, gas, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, depression, fatigue, irritability, delayed growth (children) and poor weight gain.

Fifty to 60 percent of people diagnosed with celiac disease may have few or no symptoms. On the other hand, because the symptoms are similar to other medical issues, celiac disease is difficult to diagnose.

According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, 95 percent of gluten intolerance is undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions.

Gluten-free nutrition

A gluten-free meal plan means avoiding traditional processed baked goodies like cakes, cookies and pies, packaged food such as rice mixes and macaroni and cheese, and products such as salad dressings which may containing a gluten-based thickening agent.

A gluten-free meal plan does require fiber supplementation as most gluten-free grains to do not contain as much fiber as the gluten counterparts. In addition, deficiencies in iron, folate, vitamin B12 and/or vitamin B6 may occur; these nutrients can be obtained by consuming foods such as leafy greens, legumes, fruit, eggs, milk, red meat and fish.

Carey Stites is a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and a Registered Dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition. Carey is currently the Registered Dietitian working with Wellstone in Harker Heights. Contact her at carey.stites@smchh.org.

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