Let’s begin with what is gluten exactly? Gluten is a composite of proteins found in wheat, bulgur, couscous, barley, spelt and rye to name the most common grains it can be found it. The reason this protein has become such a common term over the years is because of the ailments it has been found to cause in people. Individuals that are gluten-intolerant meaning their bodies cannot process and digest the protein and have an adverse immune response are referred to as having celiac disease. Worldwide, celiac disease occurs in almost one percent of the human population and the statistic continues to increase. If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease you know that it is an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine in people of all ages. Depending on the severity of the reaction to the disease symptoms can include fatigue, diarrhea, and the inability to absorb nutrients.
Gluten is widely used in baking products as it helps with enhancing elasticity, which affects the texture of baked goods as well as leads to a softer, chewier product for such products as bagels, pizzas and cakes. Other products where gluten is used is ice cream, ketchup, and even toothpaste. The reason for this is because gluten can act as a stabilizing agent meaning a thickener or gelling agent.
The Food and Drug Administration created a requirement that all products be listed with the top eight allergens on their food labels, which are:
Treenuts (almonds, cashews and walnuts)
I love this requirement because there can be so many variations and terms used to describe products. As consumers we are not all aware, for example, that spelt is cultivated from wheat so despite the ingredients not listing wheat the product does contain that grain.
More recently the FDA has issued additional standards for foods to be labeled “gluten free.” This isn’t a requirement, so only some manufacturers are voluntarily putting the labeling on their products. Several foods are naturally gluten-free, but there are several products and foods that are, which can make navigating the supermarket difficult.
In next week’s edition of the gluten-free series, on March 6, I will dive further into products that contain gluten to help you with your shopping navigation and also review gluten-free products that you will want to add to your shopping list. If you have any questions you would like me to address please email me at [email protected] or leave a comment below.