What Is Gluten-Free?
These days, the grocery store shelves are bulging products labelled “something”-free. There's sugar-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free, and many more. It can get hard to keep a track of exactly what’s free of what.
Gluten-free is a label indicating food items that don’t contain gluten. Avoiding gluten isn't always a matter of personal preference. For people with celiac disease, consuming gluten can lead to dangerous complications. But what exactly is gluten? Is a gluten-free lifestyle right for you? Let’s find out.
What Is Gluten? What Is Gluten-free?
Gluten is a protein that naturally occurs in bread and other grain products. This protein gives bread its characteristic shape, texture, and form. A relatively small proportion of the population (around one percent) has celiac disease, an autoimmune response to gluten-containing foods. A much larger number of people have what’s called Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). These individuals often report feeling uncomfortable after eating gluten-containing foods. NGCS occurs on a spectrum and we don’t actually know how many people suffer from it. Because of this, some experts suggest that everyone should simply adopt gluten-free diets to avoid the risk.
Products that are certified gluten-free may feature the official “gluten-free” label. According to the FDA, certified products must contain no more than 20 parts per
million (ppm) of gluten. Trace amounts of gluten are generally not an issue even for people with celiac disease.
Tips for Going Gluten-Free
Going gluten-free isn't as easy as you'd think. Most wheat, barley, and rye-based products contain varying levels of gluten. As a gluten-free consumer, you have two options. Find gluten-free substitutes for grain products or switch to a diet that's entirely free of grains.
The FDA-certified gluten-free label is the easiest way to find bread and other grain products with less than 20 ppm of gluten. Today, you can find a wide variety of certified gluten-free products at major retail stores. However, manufacturers aren’t required to put a gluten-free label on their products. If you’re in doubt, it’s a good idea to stick to natural occurring gluten-free food. These are some of the many foods that are naturally gluten-free:
- Meat and poultry
- Beans, legumes, and nuts
When going gluten-free, it can be hard to give up bread, especially if its yeasty goodness provides your main source of carbs. That's why it can be helpful to make a slow transition to rice. Try expanding your culinary horizons: stir-fries, gumbo, and ethnic cuisines often put rice front and center.
Remember this, though: being gluten-free doesn’t automatically make food healthy. Those greasy bacon strips, though free of gluten, are still loaded with cholesterol and saturated fat. Being gluten-free should be just one part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.