What is gluten-free? Wait! What the heck is gluten? Allow me to help explain what this latest buzz word in the food and health industry is all about.
If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten intolerance, the thought of eating a different diet than everyone else can be overwhelming. Once I understood what gluten was, the role it had in food, and what foods had gluten, I became less overwhelmed.
I started my gluten-free journey in 2009. I still remember sitting in the office with my naturopath and my reaction to his suggestion that I try a gluten-free diet. I was desperately trying to stay calm on the outside while I was totally freaking out on the inside!
I thought I would never be able to bake again and I’d be forced to eat weird tasteless food for the rest of my life. Well, my diet plan started out that way. However, I’ve learned a lot over the past several years and now I am here to tell you that good, healthy, delicious gluten free foods are as far away as your own kitchen! Are you getting excited? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a natural protein found in barley, rye and wheat. Gluten, when combined with leavening agents such as baking powder or yeast, provides elasticity to baked goods. That scrumptious pizza you like — the dough is full of gluten. Without gluten or a gluten replacement, yummy breads, cakes and cookies would fall apart and be nothing more than yummy crumbs.
What is Gluten-Free?
What is gluten-free? Well, I get this question a lot and the answer is simple. Gluten-free is any food that does not contain gluten. To eat gluten-free means you do not eat any food containing gluten.
Gluten-free is a relatively new buzz word in the health world. Millions of Americans are choosing to eat foods that are free of gluten for many reasons. Some, like myself, have been told by their doctors they do not have a choice. Others have realized they just feel better when they stop eating gluten. Some parents have posted they feel a gluten-free diet improves the behavior of their children including children with autism and ADHD.
What is The Difference Between Celiac Disease, Gluten Sensitivity & Wheat Allergies?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. When people with this disease are exposed to even the tiniest amount of gluten, their immune system attacks the lining of the small intestine. This results in what’s called villous atrophy, where the small hair-like intestinal villi literally wear away. When this happens, you are unable to properly digest food and absorb nutrients. Affecting 1 percent of the population, celiac disease is diagnosed by blood tests.
Gluten sensitivity, also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a disorder that is linked to the consumption of wheat and other gluten-containing foods.
A wheat allergy is a lot like other food allergies. For example, if you are allergic to peanuts, you may experience difficulty breathing, itching and even anaphylactic shock.
Symptoms can occur in the digestive systems as well as other parts of your body. Here is a short-list of symptoms:
abdominal pain and cramping
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
weight gain or weight loss
- Other Symptoms:
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
headaches, including migraines
vitamin and mineral deficiencies
The image below, from verywellhealth.com, shows 8 symptoms of a gluten allergy.
The symptoms of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are almost the same since they both stem from the inability to digest gluten. With over 250 possible symptoms that apply to both conditions, diagnosis is difficult. Blood samples can determine if you produce the antibodies to gluten. Please note that the test only works if you are still consuming gluten for several months before having blood work done.
A biopsy is the only way to determine if the villi in your intestinal tract are damaged. If they are, then you will receive a diagnosis of celiac disease. Once you have been diagnosed with this disease, then you will be on a gluten-free diet for the rest of your life. However, just because the test comes back negative for celiac disease does not mean that you do not have an intolerance to gluten.
In early 2000, I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. In 2009, my naturopath suggested I might be gluten sensitive or have celiac disease. In lieu of an expensive blood test, I opted to eliminate all gluten from my diet for over 30 days. Then, for testing purposes, I re-introduced gluten back into my diet and all my symptoms returned.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above or you think you might be gluten sensitive or have celiac disease, I urge you to get proper diagnosis through your physician.
It is important to know that there are no pills to take if you have celiac disease or are gluten sensitive. There is no cure, no prescription pills to take and the treatment is the same for both, which is simply removing gluten from your diet…permanently. This is not a fad diet, here today gone tomorrow. It is a permanent lifestyle change for the REST of your life.
Do you have a better understanding of what gluten is? I hope you are feeling less overwhelmed. If not, it’s okay. Take a deep breath and relax. You are not alone. Here at Baking with Bridget, I will show you how to cook delicious gluten-free baked goods and meals that people will rave about! We will embrace your new journey together!
I have put together some easy tips to help you start your gluten-free life.
You won’t believe these easy no bake cookies are gluten-free!