The gluten-free diet has become more and more common in modern America. But, questions abound about this way of eating. What are the differences between wheat-free and gluten-free foods? How do I know if I have a gluten sensitivity? What is the difference between that and celiac disease? Where do I find the products? What is this gluten thing anyway? All things gluten are answered here!
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein composite of the proteins gliadin and glutenin, and it is found in a variety of grains. Gluten gives dough elasticity, keeps dough together, and provides the familiar chewiness of breads, cookies and other products made from gluten-containing grains.
Where is gluten found?
Gluten is found in the "gluten grains": wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. Gluten is also found in wheat varieties: spelt, kamut, farro, durum, bran; and in wheat products: bulgur and semolina. Occasionally, oats are contaminated with wheat during processing. Gluten may also be found in lip balm, lipstick, some medications and preservatives, soy sauce and modified food starches. So you need read labels and ask!
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease is a genetic disease that affects the small intestine of the body. When a person with this disease absorbs gluten products, the body reacts by killing villi in the small intestine. Villi transfers nutrients from food that are absorbed through the walls of the small intestine, to the blood stream. Therefore, the person with Celiac disease has trouble absorbing nutrients into the body. Symptoms vary, but can include digestive problems, pale stools, weight loss, iron deficiency (anemia), skin rashes, muscle craps, seizures, ulcers, and joint pain. Common long-term risks are malnutrition and an increased susceptibility to certain cancers.
What is gluten sensitivity?
Celiac Disease is categorized as a gluten sensitivity, but many people experience issues with gluten that do not fit the diagnostic criteria for celiac disease. 1 in 133 people in the developed world have a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten. Though the research on this phenomenon is new, it seems to be related to a negative immune response to the gliadin protein found in gluten. Unlike Celiac Disease, the body does not attack itself. Symptoms can include GI issues, headache, joint pain and numbness in the extremities.
What is a wheat allergy?
A wheat allergy, most commonly found in children, is the creation of an antibody -the IG3 antibody- to proteins found in wheat (not gluten.) This can create a host of symptoms from rashes and itching to difficulty breathing and life-threatening swelling of the throat and tongue. People with severe wheat allergies often need to carry epinephrine and anti-histamines. These people can often eat gluten-containing, non-wheat grains.
How do I know if I have a gluten sensitivity/wheat allergy/celiac disease?
Pay close attention to your body and the food that you eat. Symptoms can appear several hours after you consume the offending product. If you suspect a problem, make an appointment with your doctor. These conditions can threaten your life, but with the correct diagnosis, you can turn around even the damage to your intestines caused by Celiac Disease. Your doctor may recommend an elimination diet. In this short-term diet, you stop eating a food item for 3-4 weeks, and then eat a lot of it to see how your body reacts. Always consult your doctor before trying anything new with your body.
Where can I find gluten/wheat free products?
There is no reason to give up your favorite foods just because of sensitivities to gluten or wheat! Many grains exist that can serve as the basis for replacement flours. (See the "Nuts and Grains" section, under the Bulk Items tab, for more information about the gluten-free grains available at Edge of the Woods). There are a wide range of flours -from sorghum to tapioca- so experiment to see which ones suit your favorite recipes the best.
You can easily find these flours, and other important gluten-free staples at Edge of the Woods Market in our dedicated Gluten and Wheat-Free section. This section is located in the grocery department, but more products can be found throughout the store. There are many gluten and wheat-free goodies available in the Bakery department, and gluten-free bread can be found in the Frozen food section. If we do not carry a product we can usually order it.
Good luck and happy eating!