What is gluten? Most people can easily go through life never knowing—or caring—about gluten. For those who can’t eat it, however, it is foremost in their minds. But just what is it? From a technical standpoint, gluten is actually a storage protein of wheat. Other grains have proteins that chemically resemble gluten. That’s why all of these grains—wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, triticale—are on the “do not eat” list for gluten-free persons.
There are several reasons why some individuals cannot eat gluten. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive process of the small intestine. When a person who has celiac disease consumes gluten, his/her immune system responds by attacking the small intestine and inhibiting the absorption of important nutrients into the body. Food allergies and intolerance of gluten compromise the quality of life for 10 to 15 percent of Americans who experience subtle reactions, such as nasal congestion, a feeling of fatigue, rashes, achy joints, and a host of other maladies that are as easily associated with other ailments as with food intolerance. Some people avoid gluten for other reasons. For example, part of the treatment for various autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus may include a gluten-free diet.
There was a time, when learning that you had sensitivity to wheat or gluten, meant a lifetime of dry, tasteless baked goods that crumbled in your hands and often weren’t worth the effort you put in to make them. Not anymore!
You shouldn’t feel embarrassed by your need to be gluten-free and there’s no need to apologize. There are many foods you can enjoy, so embrace your gluten-free life!
Whether hosting a dinner party or just making a weeknight dinner for two, plan menus that fit with using fresh produce and gluten-free grains, such as risotto, quinoa and rice. If you or one of the people you’ll be cooking for must avoid gluten, the good news is that it’s easier than you might think. Foods in their simplest and freshest forms tend to be gluten-free. For example, simple roasted vegetables, cooked with olive oil, salt and desired seasonings, are a great dish, pretty on the plate, delicious and naturally gluten-free.
More businesses are providing gluten-free products. Gluten-free flours, such as teff and rice flour, can be found at many supermarkets! Read food labels and keep in mind that while “gluten-free” means there’s no wheat, items listed as “wheat-free” aren’t necessarily gluten-free. Look on the ingredient list for rye, barley, malt, malt syrup, malt extract, and malt vinegar, all of which can contain gluten. Bottom line: If you have celiac disease, wheat allergies, or gluten intolerance, consider gluten-free products.