Answers by Dena McDowell, MS, RD

Some call it the latest craze, while others find it a detrimental health condition. There is a lot of confusing information about what gluten is and how it affects our bodies. Let me try to clear up some misperceptions about gluten by answering some frequently asked questions:

Q Just what is gluten anyway?

A Gluten by definition is a protein. Itís commonly found in wheat, barley and rye. The basic function of gluten is to give dough an elastic quality that helps shape the final product before cooking or baking. Gluten can also give texture to food, usually in the form of a chewy consistency. Gluten is prevalent as a natural protein source in grain foods and as an additive to foods to increase the protein content or change the consistency of the food product.

Gluten is found in many foods that you may expect and in some foods that may surprise you. Common foods that contain gluten include: breads and bakery products that contain wheat, rye, barley, wheat germ, gluten flour, durum flour, wheat starch and semolina. Other foods that should be avoided are oat bran, spelt, faro and pasta made from wheat or wheat starch. Gluten can also be used as an additive and may be lurking in foods that you would not expect like ice cream and even ketchup.

 Q What is a gluten-free intolerance versus celiac disease?

A There are two different medical conditions related to gluten that may adversely affect a person. The first disorder is known as gluten intolerance (or sensitivity). People with an intolerance react to gluten-containing foods and after eating them, may experience gas, bloating and changes in bowel pattern (which can be confused with irritable bowel syndrome). Other symptoms might include headaches, joint pain, increased fatigue, mood swings and an increased susceptibility to viruses.

The second disorder is an allergy to gluten-containing foods. This condition is known as celiac disease. It is estimated to affect one in one hundred people worldwide, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine, which then reduces absorption of needed nutrients. Over time, this causes deficiencies in certain nutrients such as iron and calcium.



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