Are you truly gluten free?

Kelsey-JulienGuest Post: Kelsey Julien, Dr. James’ Intern with a passion for nutrition and a freshman studying to be a Registered Dietician at D’Youville College.

Do you really know what is in the foods you are eating? Food labels today can be very confusing; particularly when it comes to gluten. Cross contamination with gluten is a serious problem for people with Celiac disease, and it extends beyond the fear of eating at an unknown restaurant or fast food chain.  Although it is easier to control the cooking environment at home, contamination can still be a problem.

Celiac disease is a digestive and autoimmune disorder that results in damage to the lining of the small intestine when foods with gluten are eaten.  Gluten is a form of protein found in some grains. Gluten entering the body, acts as a foreign invader triggering an autoimmune response called villous atrophy. The villi are hair like projections located on the surface area in the small intestine allowing nutrients to be absorbed. The autoimmune response for Celiac disease causes an attack on the villi and they can become severely damaged. Many people have intense symptoms such as bloating, abdominal cramping or vomiting. Some do not experience symptoms at all; completely unaware they have what is known as Silent Celiac disease. The number of people afflicted with Celiac disease is quickly increasing; about three million people suffer from the disease. It can be linked to lupus and thyroid disease. It is highly recommended to undergo testing for Celiac Disease if you suffer from another autoimmune disorder. People can also experience intolerance to gluten. Gastrointestinal symptoms with wheat or gluten intolerance may include gassiness, abdominal pain, abdominal distension and diarrhea. These symptoms are usually short-lived and are thought not to cause permanent damage. Gluten sensitivity differs from Celiac disease in that the body is not attacking the villi. It can be similar as the same symptoms as Celiac disease can occur. Others do not have any symptoms at all, but after eliminating gluten from their diet, they feel better. Many report their nagging headaches are gone, and experience a natural burst of energy. Celiac disease can also be related to women and infertility. Folate, vitamin B, calcium, and zinc are essential for a healthy pregnancy. A person with Celiac disease, because their villi are flat, cannot absorb these nutrients adequately. Miscarriages, low birth weight and neural tube defects can all be complications associated with the mother’s Celiac disease. Treatment can sometimes go further than eliminating the ingestion of gluten by also protecting your skin from coming in contact with gluten. You would be surprised what is floating in the air we breathe; flour products can be ingested quite easily.

A gluten free diet can be challenging to follow due to the processed world we live in today. Convenience means fast food and being on the go. The Food and Administration Act has been trying to regulate this, by making the protocol that if a food is said to be gluten free it must contain less than 20 parts per million of it. If a product says wheat free it can still contain gluten. It has been found that oats stating they are gluten free could still have been affected by cross contamination. Products made in the same factory as other products made with gluten can directly affect someone with an allergy. It is important to do your research because often the same equipment is used. Going out to dine is tricky. Pots and pans are shared in restaurants and if not cleaned properly you could be at risk. At your home cutting bread and not cleaning the surface properly can lead to cross contamination. Another thing many people don’t realize, the toaster is a trap for gluten.  Cross contamination is almost impossible to avoid. Do you really know what is in your medications? Some over the counter medications contain gluten. There are no requirements for these products to have gluten free labeling. Gluten is often used as a bonding agent in medications and vitamins. Be sure when talking with your doctor that they know about your gluten intolerance, to ensure your medications are free of gluten. Author of The Complete Guide to Naturally Gluten Free Foods, Olivia Dupin states,

“Ask questions not only about the ingredients in the medication, but also about the possibility of cross contamination during the manufacturing process”.

Gluten can be very sneaky; found in many foods that would surprise you. Soup, sauces and even in pickles! Some pickling process contains malt vinegar which is a beer like liquid. Your kids could be playing with it right now; play dough contains gluten. Many shampoos and beauty products have gluten ingredients. A gluten free diet includes not ingesting wheat, barley, and rye. It is found in many of our processed foods sitting on the shelves in grocery stores including pizza, pancakes, bread, beer, chips, and donuts. Read all food labels carefully whether you have Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity as it is found is many foods that might surprise you; chicken stock, licorice, and canned frosting.

Overwhelming at first, but over time you can become a pro at identifying food containing gluten. Give it a chance; it could change your life forever.  Being truly gluten free may sound impossible, but if you do your research it can be accomplished. It is a life style change that you have to be committed too, because the food industry is not going to do you any favors.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 9.19.59 AMsource: The Complete Guide to Naturally Gluten Free Foods, Olivia Duping

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