Gluten is a protein composite found in grains, barley and rye and gives baked goods their characteristic fluffiness and elasticity. It’s also a very popular food additive and can be used as a thickener, binder or flavor enhancer. While gluten does not appear to have any negative health effects in the diet of most people, there is a small subset of the population that is sensitive. Gluten sensitivity can come in the form of something resembling a simple food allergy, to a more serious condition known as Celiac Disease, sufferers of which could face fatal consequences if the condition is undiagnosed and gluten remains in the diet.
Those with basic gluten sensitivity may experience a number of symptoms. These include gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, discomfort or pain, constipation or diarrhea. Other symptoms may include general aches and pains in joints or bones. In the more severe form of gluten sensitivity, Celiac Disease, other signs may present. Weight loss, fatigue, depression, anemia or a rash may accompany the gastrointestinal phenomena and are linked to the body’s reduced ability to absorb nutrients in the small intestine. In Celiac Disease, the little finger-like growths in the small intestine called villi become damaged and lose their ability to efficiently extract nutrients from the food we eat.
Celiac Disease can be differentiated from a less serious gluten sensitivity through a biopsy of the small intestine or a blood test. The only way of treating any type of gluten sensitivity at present is through introducing a gluten-free diet.
Avoiding grains, barley and rye may not seem like a difficult diet at first, but gluten as an additive can be found in many surprising products. Things like soups and salad dressings don’t appear at first to contain gluten but commonly do as an additive. Thankfully, many stores are now beginning to stock gluten-free products that adhere to strict standards. Many gluten-free alternatives exist for grain products as well. Gluten-free bread, pizza and muffins can be made at home using alternative flours or purchased at the grocery store.