Celiac disease and Crohn’s disease are not the only plagues necessitating a gluten free lifestyle. Due to its unique protein nature, gluten is a common allergen which may make those with other immune system diseases and genetic disorders suffer.
Less than 1% of the united states population is sensitive to gluten, many of which have celiac disease. Celiac disease is an allergy, or abnormal immune system reaction to gliadin, one of the proteins which make up gluten. Most world cultures do not rely as heavily on wheat products as the United States and Central Europe.
Also, many wheat allergies are completely different disorders than celiac and Crohn’s disease. In Celiacs the gliadin gets modified by intestinal enzymes and causes an immune system inflammatory action in the lining of the small intestine. This interferes and even prohibits the absorption of essential nutrients, and can cause a slow death. The only effective treatment is a gluten free diet.
As a kid, I ate like most other kids eat, what was put in front of you. We didn’t often eat bread and wheat since they were expensive. Rice, squash, and other carbohydrate sources were our staples growing up. We did eat a lot of noodles, but I noticed they didn’t always agree with me, so I avoided them like I also did most meat products.
As I got older, moved out on my own, and joined the work force, I began to eat the common sandwiches, pizzas and other foods like my college peers did. As I did, I found myself getting sicker and sicker. At one point I moved in with a roommate who had celiac, we often shared food and I gradually adopted a gluten free diet. A miracle happened, I began to feel better, a lot better, in fact.
I don’t have celiac or Crohn’s disease. I have a unique autoimmune disorder which is genetic and common to many descendants of holocaust survivors from northern Europe, who were descendants of middle eastern tribes.
What this disease is, is an allergy to proteins, mostly due to poor T-cell growth and maturation, most don’t survive long enough to do what they are suppose to. T-cells are responsible for telling the body which is poison or a foreign invader and what is food and part of the body by memorizing the unique protein molecule signature of food, bacteria, body, and virus cells. So the immune system attacks all sorts of proteins. Gluten is a protein and it is similar to many bacteria protein molecule shapes.
Gluten is a sugar type protein found in many grains, it is made up of gliadn and glutenin and these form a starch which bacteria, like yeast, feed on to make bread rise. Gluten is most commonly found in the endosperms of tricycale breeds of grains, modern varieties are commonly known as wheat, rye, and barley, although oats are a related cousin. There are many varieties of wheat too, these are called common wheat, durham, spelt, einkorn, emmer, and kamute. (buckwheat is not a wheat product, but is an entirely different grain and does NOT contain ANY gluten.) Gluten makes up 80% of the protein found in wheat, rye, oat, and barley products. Though many celiacs can tolerate oats since they contain only trace amounts of gluten, those who suffer from a gluten/wheat allergy cannot.
Gluten in Food
Since gluten is a starch-like proteins which is better at feeding the yeast needed to make breads soft and beer delicious, and it makes most foods bind together and thickens many sauces, soups, and packaged foods, it is used in many packaged and processed foods.
It also added proteins, and therefore is added to build up the nutritional profiles of food. It also absorbs the water and flavors of foods it is added to. Since it is high in protein, it is often used in vegetarian diets and makes vegetarian meat substitutes more palatable. It is even used as a meat substitute in Buddhist cuisines. It is commonly eaten in China and Japan as a meat substitute in many dishes.
Gluten is used as an additive in many foods such as ice cream, ketchup, and starches and flavor mixes. Many food manufactures do not list it on their labels. That is why it is important to cross reference most foods before buying them to makes sure they do not contain hidden gluten.
Tips For Going Gluten Free
There are many products coming out on the market which are gluten free and are clearly labeled so. If you have a protein allergy, as I do, most still aren’t safe since they use corn products which contain a similar proteins to gluten. But most Celiacs can tolerate corn well.
You will want to avoid starches, such as corn starch, and thickening agents. Instead use xanthan gum (derived from corn), tapioca starch, rice starch, and bean starch. These can be found inexpensively at many Asian markets.
Avoid anything with caramel coloring. Caramel coloring is made with gluten. ( I don’t know the particulars.) I do know that those with sensitivities to gluten will have a strong reaction to dark sodas and brown colored foods which the label says caramel color on them. Avoid sodas, some food colors, and baking flavors such as vanilla. Keep a sharp eye on the labels, even some commonly labeled gluten free products will contain caramel coloring.
Avoid artificially flavored foods or foods contain soy products. Fermented foods are also off limits as gluten is often used to feed the bacteria used in the fermentation process. So avoid cheese, alcoholic drinks, and white vinegar. Brown sugar is really caramel colored white sugar, so use natural raw sugar when possible.
Avoid packaged foods. Cook everything fresh, this way you know what’s in it. Cooking fresh meals doesn’t have to be labor intensive. I know I don’t have the time to slave away in the kitchen each week for my meals, you don’t have to either.
Quick Gluten Free Foods
Delicious quick cooking foods include squashes, yams, potatoes, rice (not white, try wild, brown, red, bamboo, or other exotic varieties), buckwheat, rice flour, tapioca flour, bean flour, Thai rice wraps, and gluten free hot and cold cereals.
Many supermarkets are getting into the swing of things and gluten free products can be found in the natural food or organic food sections. They may be a little higher priced, but they actually taste better. A few brands I love are Koala puffs (chocolate and regular like rice crispies, and even come in snack bars), Nutty Rice Cereal, Black Rice Bread, and Quaker rice cakes. (check the labels though, many flavored Quaker rice cakes contain corn and wheat.)
Be a label watcher and check labels carefully. The extra time spent learning what foods to avoid and which are safe can make your tummy happy and make you feel much better.