What is Gluten Exactly?
It's a protein that's found in certain grains, including wheat, rye, and barley. "Its sticky, glue-like property, and many other properties, makes gluten especially useful to the food industry, which uses it in products as a binder, filler, shaper, bulking agent, texturizer, and stabilizer," says Alejandro Junger, MD, in his book Clean Gut. "It is almost impossible to escape gluten in America. Gluten is everywhere, and it can really do a number on the gut."
Why is Gluten So Harmful?
Most people don't understand just how bad gluten is for human health, says Junger. "The list of syndromes and diseases associated with gluten sensitivity is endless." According to Junger, these include: arthritis; several types of cancer; depression; fatigue, hair loss (including alopecia), migraines; thyroid disorders, and type 1 diabetes, among others.
What is Celiac Disease?
It is a hereditary autoimmune disease that affects an estimated 3 million Americans. You do not have to be diagnosed with celiac disease to have difficulty digesting gluten or benefit from a gluten-free diet. But you do need to follow a strict gluten-free diet if you have celiac disease. "Tiny amounts of gluten can still cause gut damage and other long-term health effects if you're celiac; not so if you are gluten sensitive or avoid gluten by choice," says Beth Hillson, author of The Complete Guide to Living Well Gluten Free. Hillson adds that you need to be eating gluten when you are tested for celiac disease, because gluten must be present in your system during testing for an accurate diagnosis.
Go with the Grain
According to Hillson, the following grains are safe for anyone following a gluten-free diet:
- Corn (corn flour, cornmeal, cornstarch, grits, hominy, masa harina)
- Legume (bean) flours (chickpea, fava bean, navy bean)
- Nut flours (almond, pecan, hazelnut)
- Oats (certified gluten-free)
- Potato (potato flour, potato starch)
- Rice (brown rice, white rice, sweet rice)
- Tapioca starch
Win a Copy of This Book!
Win a copy of Beth Hillson's new book, The Complete Guide to Living Well Gluten Free. Email your favorite gluten-free holiday tip (e.g., a holiday entertaining suggestion or gluten-free recipe) to email@example.com. Two readers will be selected at random to receive copies of the book. And watch for the December issue of Better Nutrition, where we will share readers' ideas for a healthy, gluten-free holiday!