Dental Associates of Northern Virginia in Alexandria
1500 Belle View Boulevard, Alexandria, VA 22307
“Gluten-free” is a term that appears in health articles and on the labels of popular food choices with increasing frequency. It’s used to describe foods that do not contain the type of protein called gluten. Gluten works to hold certain types of food together and helps to make them more elastic. It is found in rye, barley, triticale, wheat and derivatives of wheat, brewer’s yeast, and various forms of malt. Because it receives a great deal of attention, many are confused as to when or if they should skip foods that contain it. A gluten-free diet is not, however, meant for everyone. For most, eating gluten-free food does not provide any special health benefits, nor will it help them lose weight. There are, however, some people who should avoid foods that contain gluten, such as individuals who have celiac disease or are gluten-sensitive.
Celiac disease is an immune response to eating gluten. This response occurs in the small intestine, where it damages the lining. The damage caused by this disease, which has no cure, prevents the absorption of nutrients. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, anemia, a skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis, osteoporosis, and heartburn. People may also experience joint pain, injury to the nervous system, and hyposplenism, which is diminished functioning of the spleen. Celiac disease can result in serious health problems if left untreated, such as autoimmune diseases, certain types of cancer, and thyroid disease. People who do not have celiac disease but cannot tolerate gluten may have a condition known as gluten sensitivity. This has many of the symptoms of celiac disease, but gluten sensitivity differs in that it does not damage the intestine.
The treatment for people who are unable to eat gluten is to consume a gluten-free diet. Gluten is found in a wide range of foods, including pasta, crackers, breading, croutons, and flour tortillas. It is often found in breakfast foods including pancakes, waffles, French toast, cereal, and granola. Pastries, muffins, croissants, and other types of bread also contain gluten. It can also be found in foods that one may not expect to find it. This includes items such soy sauce as well as roux-based sauces and gravies. Malt beverages, including beer, may also contain gluten.
A growing number of gluten-free versions of popular food choices are available at grocery stores, allowing people to eat a greater variety of foods without suffering the consequences of consuming gluten. One should never make an assumption, however, that an item is gluten-free unless it is clearly labeled as such. Reading and understanding the label is crucial to understanding what’s in the foods that are being purchased. If a manufacturer attaches a “gluten-free,” “free of gluten,” “without gluten,” or “no gluten” label to their product, it must meet certain requirements set by the Food and Drug Administration. For example, a product with this label does not naturally contain gluten, does not have ingredients that contain a gluten-containing grain, and does not have any ingredient that contains any derivative of a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove the gluten. In addition, only 20 parts per million of gluten can be in the product as a result of cross-contamination.
When people know which ingredients are gluten-free, they can experience the joys of worry-free cooking at home. Food items such as quinoa, rice, potato, soy, bean flour, and millet, for example, are often used as substitutes for wheat and other foods that contain gluten. Other safe foods that can be eaten on a gluten-free diet include most dairy products, chicken and other meats, vegetables, beans, and fruit. These ingredients can also be used to create delicious recipes for meals, snacks, and even dessert. People who must avoid gluten in their diets will find that there are many available recipes that are appealing to the tastes of adults and children.