What is gluten? Why is it so trendy to be “free of gluten”?
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in certain grain products, including variations of wheat, rye, and barley. Because grains are the foundation of flour, it’s no surprise that gluten is found in conventional bread, pasta, crackers, and pastries.
Gluten itself isn’t an essential nutrient, it’s harmless to live without this particular molecule. However, gluten-containing foods like whole-grain cereals and bread are sources of very vital nutrients, such as B-vitamins, folate, and potassium.
While it doesn’t offer a ton of health benefits, gluten can actually be very harmful to people who are allergic to it.
Our human guts use enzymes to breakdown proteins, but it can’t completely digest gluten. When this undigested gluten arrives in the small intestine, it can trigger a strong immune response in those who are allergic to gluten, and it can cause unpleasant symptoms for others.
About 1% of the American population is currently diagnosed with a gluten allergy, also known as Celiac Disease. But, studies have estimated that up to 83% of Americans who have Celiac Disease are either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with another condition.
Is gluten intolerance on the rise?
Additionally, the prevalence of gluten intolerance is on the rise, where it’s not a full-blown allergic reaction but their bodies react poorly to the consumption of gluten.
Symptoms can range from indigestion or upset stomach, painful bloating, skin conditions, to cognitive dysfunctions like brain fog.
Gluten isn’t inherently bad — it really depends on your body’s ability to tolerate it.
On that note, if you want to adopt a gluten-free diet, make sure you are still paying attention to the quality of your nutrient sources. Gluten-free is not synonymous with nutrient-dense or healthy.
Nowadays, it’s so easy to find gluten-free treats and processed foods that are packed full of sugar, chemical additives, and vegetable oils.
Just because it doesn’t contain gluten, doesn’t necessarily mean it supports a healthy gut, healthy weight management, healthy hormones, healthy blood sugar control, healthy cognitive function, or a healthy relationship with food.
You have got to pay attention to the ingredient list and look for minimally processed whole foods on it.
CBT nutritionist Keren’s 3 favourite gluten-free foods
First, oats are gluten-free inherently. Oats are a grain, but it is not gluten-containing grain! If you are new to a gluten-free lifestyle, oats can be a really useful wheat replacement. You can use oats in cereals, oat flour is excellent for baking, and overnight oats are one of my go-to breakfasts.
Be sure to triple-check that your oats come from a facility that is gluten-free to avoid cross-contamination if you are allergic or severely intolerant!
Second, rice! I’m Chinese and rice is a huge part of my heritage. Rice is another grain that does not contain gluten.
Aside from being a good side dish on its own, rice products are excellent for making batters and noodles.
If you’re looking to make a crepe or pancake, rice flour has a really fine texture and neutral flavour for that. And rice noodles come in all thicknesses and shapes — making them another more digestible alternative to wheat products.
And finally, I am pleased to share that one of my favourite gut-healthy fermented foods is gluten-free.
Before barley was one of the hundreds of whole foods that were added to the traditional fermentation process of R’s KOSO, which was still great for the majority of people’s gut health but it made the product less inclusive to those who cannot process gluten easily.