The label “Gluten-Free” is appearing with increasing frequency on a variety of products, in recipes and on restaurant menus. But what is gluten, and why are some people avoiding it?
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in many of the grains typically eaten in a Western diet. It works as a sort of binder, or “glue,” and gives bread its spongy, moist texture. This is partly why gluten-free bread often goes dry faster than regular bread.
Grains that contain gluten include wheat, barley, rye and, to some extent, oats. Oat grains do not naturally contain gluten, but they often come into contact with crops that contain gluten. Either from i.e. a nearby wheat field or when handled in a production facility that also handles other grains. Therefore, the gluten content is very low or untraceable in oats.
Because gluten comes from grains, it is found in foods made from these grains, including breads and baked goods, pasta, cereals and many processed foods.
Why do people avoid gluten?
There are several reasons why people avoid gluten. Some have celiac disease, which also known as gluten allergy. This is a disease in which the immune system reacts to gluten and slowly destroys part of the small intestine. This can lead to malnutrition and other dangerous conditions. People with gluten sensitivity experience symptoms from eating gluten, such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, fatigue or headaches. Nevertheless, medical tests reveal no reason for these symptoms.
Reasons why others avoid gluten vary. Some simply want to cut down on carbohydrates. Since foods containing gluten are generally high in carbohydrates, this can be an easy guideline to follow in everyday life. Others follow diets that either base gluten elimination on particular weight-loss beliefs or singular studies, either by their own choice, or because an alternative medicine practitioner has advised them to. However, scientific no studies have concluded that gluten is harmful to people without celiac disease, or that eating a gluten-free diet is healthier.
Fact: Some gluten-free breads actually contain more calories than regular breads.
On the contrary, it is important to include whole grains--although not necessarily gluten-containing grains—in a healthy diet, since the fiber found in grains play a vital role in both digestion and general gut health. Studies have shown that including a large amount of fibre in your diet can help prevent type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and certain types of cancer.
The best fibre sources that do not contain gluten
The best sources of fibre are grains whose bran has not been removed. The list could include brown rice, amaranth, buckwheat, flaxseed, popcorn, quinoa, wild rice and gluten-free brands of rolled oats.
Beans and lentils are also high in fibre, as are many vegetables and fruits. Good sources include carrots, beetroot, broccoli, artichokes, collard greens, swiss chard, potatoes, apples, figs, raspberries and mangos.