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Published on October 10, 2011

Is Gluten-Free for Me?

October 10, 2011 

Whether in muffins, rolls, or loaves, wheat bread is found in most households. But few consumers may appreciate the substance that helps the dough rise, keeps the bread from falling apart, makes it chewy, and adds to its flavor.

That substance is gluten. Breads, cakes, cereals, pastas, and many other foods are made with wheat or added wheat gluten to improve their baking quality and texture.

Technically, gluten represents specific proteins that occur naturally in wheat. However, the term “gluten” is commonly used to refer to certain proteins that occur naturally not only in wheat, but also in rye, barley, and crossbreeds of these grains. Gluten can harm people who have celiac disease. The only treatment for this disorder is a life-long gluten-free diet.

Eating gluten doesn’t bother most consumers, but some people with celiac disease have health-threatening reactions. They need to know whether a food contains gluten.

Eating gluten-free is not meant to be a diet craze. It is a medical necessity for those who have celiac disease. There are no nutritional advantages for a person not sensitive to gluten to be on a gluten-free diet. Those who are not sensitive to gluten have more flexibility and can choose from a greater variety of foods to achieve a balanced diet.

Gluten-free is not synonymous with low fat, low sugar, or low sodium. For people who must be on a gluten-free diet, it's important to check the ingredients list and Nutrition Facts information on food labels to find the most nutritious options.

What is Celiac Disease?

The disease occurs when the body’s natural defense system reacts to gluten by attacking the lining of the small intestine. Without a healthy intestinal lining, the body cannot absorb the nutrients it needs. Delayed growth and nutrient deficiencies can result and may lead to conditions such as anemia and osteoporosis. Other serious health problems may include diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and intestinal cancers.

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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