Eating Gluten-Free for Health

Certain foods contain a protein called gluten. This protein helps food keep its shape by holding it together. When consumed, it can cause complications in people with conditions such as celiac disease, which is a hereditary autoimmune disease. When a person with celiac disease eats foods containing gluten, their immune response attacks and damages the small intestine. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is another gluten-related condition. After eating gluten, a person who has non-celiac gluten sensitivity may experience a number of problems, such as constipation, stomach pain, diarrhea, depression, or chronic fatigue. People with this condition do not test positive for celiac disease and do not experience the same damage to their small intestine. To prevent these problems from occurring, it is crucial that people who suffer from these conditions educate themselves so they are aware of what they can and cannot safely eat. Friends and family should also understand the problems that gluten can cause for sufferers who may at some point dine in their home.

Foods That Contain Gluten

The best way to avoid gluten is to know which foods contain it. Wheat, barley, and rye all contain gluten, and as a result, foods that are made from these ingredients do, too. It can be confusing when it comes to flour, as some wheat flours go by different names, such as spelt, kamut, semolina, and graham flour. Foods that obviously contain gluten include cereals, crackers, beer, pasta, tortillas, cookies, muffins, cakes, and bread. Items such as soups may contain gluten if they are thickened using flour. Other less obvious foods that contain gluten are gravy, certain types of hot dogs and lunch meats, salad dressing, soy sauce, and matzo. The best way to know for sure whether a food contains gluten is to carefully check the label.

Gluten Contamination

Certain foods that are normally gluten-free can become contaminated by it if they come into contact with it. This is called cross-contamination or gluten contamination, and it often occurs during the processing of certain foods when the same equipment is used. When this occurs, the food can no longer be considered entirely gluten-free. Oatmeal is one food that may fall prey to gluten contamination. Oats that have been processed commercially may come into contact with gluten in other foods during the stages of production. Pure oats that have not been processed, however, are still a gluten-free food. Cross-contamination can also occur during the preparation of foods at home and at restaurants.

Alternatives to Gluten

Alternatives to gluten are foods that are made without the use of barley, rye, or wheat. These foods are labeled as "gluten-free" and meet the Food and Drug Administration's requirements that any gluten content is less than 20 parts per million. Gluten-free foods are made using substitutes such as rice, potatoes, tapioca flour, buckwheat, quinoa, arrowroot, and sorghum. Items such as pasta, bread, cereals, and even pizza crust can be made gluten-free by using these alternative ingredients. However, unless a food is labeled as 100 percent gluten-free, people should assume that an item does contain gluten.

Support Groups

It can be hard for people who do not have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity to understand how difficult or frustrating it is or how gluten can affect one's health. This can make it difficult for people who do suffer from these conditions, particularly when they are first diagnosed. Additionally, people with celiac disease may have difficulty adjusting to a new way of preparing food and eating. Support groups allow people to discuss issues and experiences with others who not only sympathize with them but have experienced the same frustrations. These groups may hold events, help educate one another, or simply share tips. Support groups can be found online, or one's doctor may recommend support groups that meet in person.