Gluten Intolerant? How to Protect Yourself.

Kara Bauer Health Guide
  • Celiac disease and even a gluten intolerance can cause detrimental health consequences if gluten is consumed. In the case of Celiac disease, even the smallest amount of gluten can produce symptoms that may or may not be felt, but result in negative repercussions inside the body. Even if you are not part of the small percentage of adults who have Celiac or the larger percentage that are gluten intolerant, you may choose to stop eating gluten if you find it improves your digestion and mental wellbeing. Even though gluten is high in protein (and a staple for many following a vegetarian diet), a growing number of people find that consuming gluten causes inflammation in their gut, which may prevent proper nutrient absorption. Whether you are Celiac, gluten intolerant or just simply believe that cutting gluten out of your diet is a wise health choice, it’s important to understand which foods contain gluten as well as how to prevent cross-contamination both at home and in restaurants.

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    There is no doubt that if you are Celiac, knowing how to protect yourself from gluten can be a life or death situation. Distinct from gluten intolerance, Celiac disease is actually an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the lining of the small intestine.  This can weaken the immune system, allowing illnesses to become serious or even deadly, cause extreme malabsorption of nutrients and damage to cellular structures (leading to cancer), and even dehydration in which the gut pulls the water from the body.[1] Other common symptoms that both Celiacs and those who are gluten intolerant or sensitive are bloating, diarrhea and cramping as well as IBS-like symptoms, headaches, fatigue and depression. Unfortunately in the case of Celiacs, many don’t experience any physical symptoms at all, making it even more important to educate yourself on how to avoid gluten at all costs.[2]

     

    Most people understand clearly that gluten is the protein component found in wheat and other related grains (barley, rye, etc.) that is responsible for the elastic texture in dough. Although most simply this means that to avoid gluten you must cut out bread, pasta, crackers, pastries and all other products produced from wheat flour, what many don’t know is that there are many other foods that contain hidden gluten. For example, pre-made soups, soy sauce, cold cuts, energy bars, barley malts, stuffing, dressings, sauces,  spices, mustard and even nutritional supplements may contain gluten. Seitan, found in vegetarian cooking, is made from pure wheat gluten. Other names for wheat include einkorn, durum, faro, graham, kamut, semolina, spelt and triticale. The only grains that are considered gluten free are brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, millet and amaranth. Unfortunately, many are forced to avoid oats simply because they are produced and cultivated alongside wheat, making cross-contamination unavoidable. However, there are gluten-free oats available on the market now along with a host of other gluten-free products to make your shopping a bit easier.[3]

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    At home, you’ll want to protect yourself from gluten in very specific ways, especially if you share your living space with other family members or friends. For starters, you’ll want to have your own toaster (for gluten free breads) and also your own cutting boards. Gluten contamination can occur with the tiniest breadcrumb or bit of flour dust. If you bake your own gluten-free foods, it’s a great idea to invest in your own set of pans, mixing bowls, spatulas, spoons, cookie sheets, etc. Although good quality utensils and equipment can be cleaned well before use to avoid cross-contamination, it’s a good safety precaution to keep your kitchen items separate from your housemates. Even crumbs left in the oven or pasta bits left over in strainers can lead to cross-contamination. All your food should also be stored in separate glass or ceramic containers that are easily cleaned and sterilized. Both plastic and metal containers can hold gluten residuals. Label everything well and make sure that your housemates know to never touch the items marked as gluten-free.[4]

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    Although managing your home environment can be done if the commitment is there, dining out in restaurants can be a bit more challenging. As a starting point, first look to see if there are any publicized gluten-free or celiac-friendly restaurants in your area. If not, most restaurants include their menu online these days and it’s fairly easy to review it beforehand to see if there are any foods you can eat. Be prepared to ask questions while ordering about food preparation as you’ll need to know if possible cross contamination may occur. Avoid fancy dishes with unknown sauces, seasonings or special coatings. Sometimes the chef will be willing to prepare these dishes without the sauce or “on the side”. It’s also helpful to bring a dining card with you that lists gluten containing foods and the ways in which cross-contamination may occur. This can be shown to the chef to ensure that they can prepare a gluten free dish for you even if it’s not on the menu. Dining cards (available in different languages) can be purchased by a variety of vendors and are also included in many books on gluten-free dining.

     

    Although living gluten-free can be challenging at first, in time you’ll develop new habits that will become automatic in nature and require very little thought. Family and friends will also become accustomed to your needs and you’ll find ways to enjoy events and gatherings without concern. Be patient and always remind yourself that you are protecting your health so that you can enjoy your life to the fullest and prevent chronic disease and health problems. Remember too that since the demand for gluten-free options is continuing to grow, you can expect more and more food and dining options in the very near future.

     

    [1] Libonati, J. (2008, March 10). Yes you can die from celiac disease. Retrieved from http://glutenfreeworks.com/blog/2008/03/10/yes-you-can-die-from-celiac-disease/#.UYT4PisjqFc

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    [2] Drhyman.com (2011, March 17). Gluten: what you don't know might kill you. Retrieved from http://drhyman.com/blog/conditions/gluten-what-you-dont-know-might-kill-you/

     

    [3] Celiac Disease Foundation (www.celiac.org)

     

    [4] (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442470092

     

     

Published On: May 04, 2013