Gluten has become a nutrition buzz word lately, but it can be confusing to know exactly what contains gluten, how to eat gluten-free and if it’s even something you need to avoid.
What is gluten?
Gluten is the general term for the proteins (i.e. gliadin, glutenin) found in wheat. It acts as a glue that enables foods to keep their shape and elasticity. Gluten comprises 75–85% of the total protein in bread. In addition to wheat and wheat products, similar glutens can also be found in spelt, durum, farina, farro, rye and barley (i.e. glutelin, prolamin). Gluten can be difficult to avoid because it is in many unexpected foods like condiments, dressing and sauces.
Should I avoid it?
With so many people following a gluten-free diet, how do you know if it’s something that will be beneficial for you too? If you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, avoiding gluten is a top priority, as gluten triggers an immune reaction and creates long term damage to the lining in the small intestine, leading to malabsorption. Even if you don’t have celiac, you could still be sensitive to gluten proteins found in cereal grains. Sometimes this condition is called Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). Common symptoms are frequent bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation, abdominal pain, headaches, fatigue and skin issues like psoriasis, alopecia areata and chronic urticaria1. Changes in mood, like depression and anxiety, brain fog and joint pain can also be symptoms of a gluten intolerance. If you’re not experiencing any of these common symptoms, avoiding gluten is most likely not necessary, although according to the Environmental Working Group2, 58% of wheat products are heavily sprayed with the chemical glyphosate, so look for organically grown in order to reduce unnecessary exposure to pesticides.
What contains gluten?
Wheat and derivatives like:
- Malt (including malted barley flour, malted milk or milkshakes, malt extract, malt syrup, malt flavoring, malt vinegar)
- Brewer’s yeast
Foods that commonly contain gluten:
- Baked goods
- Flour tortillas
- Bread crumbs
Unsuspected potential sources of gluten:
- Oats (although gluten-free on their own, they are often cross-contaminated with other gluten grains)
- Condiments (like BBQ sauce and mustard)
- Potato chips (especially vinegar flavored)
- French fries (they may be battered or have cross contamination)
- Soy sauce
- Vegetarian protein (like seitan or veggie burgers)
- Canned soups
- Salad dressing
- Brown rice syrup
- Processed lunch meat
Look for “gluten free” on the front of the package, as the FDA only allows products with less than 20ppm of gluten to be labeled “gluten-free.” Also get in the habit of checking the back label to look for the allergen listing which will say “contains gluten or wheat.” Another helpful tip is to check the ingredient list for the obvious gluten sources like wheat, barley and rye.
If you’re new to avoiding gluten, try not to get overwhelmed by all of the information. Remember to take it one meal at a time and pay attention to how your body feels.
If you need guidance, our certified health coaches are here to help you find a plan that works for you. Mymee helps relieve symptoms related to autoimmune disease by identifying dietary, lifestyle, and environmental factors that may be contributing to disease flares.
- Rashid, Mohsin. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: How to Diagnose and Differentiate it from Celiac Disease
- Temkin, Alexis & Naidenko, Olga. (February 28, 2019). Glyphosate Contamination Food Goes Far Beyond Oat Products.