Just exactly what is gluten? Good question.

There is some confusion these days as to exactly what is gluten and gluten intolerance. But, fear not, our gluten guide is here to shed some enlightenment onto the proceedings.

What Is Gluten?

Gluten is a unique kind of protein that is usually present in wheat, rye and barley among other things that are considered carbs.

There is a perception among some people that gluten is bad for you or unhealthy because some people can not properly digest it.

However this can be labeled a myth or untruth about gluten.

When dealing with your health or nutrition it is best to stick to facts and facts alone.

Because gluten is present in several of the mainstays of the grain family, it is most often found in bread as well as cereal ,many people are of the mistaken belief that gluten means grain.

Again this is untrue. However, simple inclusion in the grain family does not ensure that a food stuff will contain gluten.

For instance, there are several types of grains that do not include gluten at all.

Examples of these include wild rice, millet, amaranth, quinoa, oats, soybeans, sunflower seeds and buck wheat.

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Still, one can be certain that many of the most popular grains and cereals contain gluten. This is true.

So just what is gluten? Gluten has many unique characteristics.

For instance it is not water soluble and can be eliminated from wheat flour by a thorough rinse of the dough followed by a vigrous knead of the dough.

The dough must be kneaded until all of the starch has been removed from it.

Thus it is a somewhat difficult process and many with a gluten sensitivity choose to avoid glutenous grains all together rather than endure this process.

Gluten, in bread, causes many of the distinguishing properties that are inherent in the food stuff called bread.

In bread it is gluten that causes elasticity which gives the bread its malleable, chewy texture.

Because of this when gluten is removed from dough it possess a puddy-like, sticky composition.

Another characteristic of gluten is that is tough.

It is gluten that gives certain bread products such as pizza dough and bagels their dense, chewy characteristics.

Gluten also retains gases that are released during the process of fermentation that bread undergoes when it is still in its dough form.

As a result of this retention, bread will rise before baking taking on an airy form.

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Another facet of gluten is that it, along with starch,  serves to hold the shape of a cooked loaf of bread. Gluten is also party responsible for the “staling” of bread.

But that alone does not answer the question of what is gluten.

It has other features as well. Another characteristic of gluten is that it can take on fluids, allowing it to “soak  up” liquids.

It is this quality of gluten which gives bread its absorbent features. Due to this gluten can serve as an imitation meat and is frequently used in that capacity by vegetarians.

Because of this many individuals who follow a gluten free diet do not eat imitation meat or imitation meat products. Many of these products contain significant amounts of gluten.

Approximately 0.5% – 1% of the general population suffers from a disease called celiac disease. Celiac disease can result in serious complications and even death.

This disease causes an improper immune reaction to gluten and as a result gluten must be eliminated from the diet of individuals who suffer from this disease. 

Therefore, only diets that are 100% gluten-free will suffice for this substantial minority.

So in a nutshell that answers the question of what is gluten.

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What is Gluten Intolerance?

Gluten intolerance, quite simply, describes a condition where an individual has difficulty digesting gluten.

In some cases, such as Celiac Disease, it is medically unwise for the person suffering from the condition to ever consume gluten under any circumstances.

Only a tiny fraction, less than 1%, of people in the developed world suffer from Celiac Disease.

However, there are a great deal many more who are gluten intolerant and therefore have difficulty digesting gluten.

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How do I know if I am gluten intolerant?

That’s a good question.

Because unlike Celiac Disease, which is an immune reaction to gluten which can cause severe, sometimes life-threatening complications when gluten is eaten, gluten intolerance often develops slowly.

Worse yet the most common gluten intolerance symptoms can be confused for countless other intestinal tract conditions.

I have even heard of gluten intolerance being misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome and, occasionally, as postpartum depression.

Even today doctors are not at their best when it comes to identifying a gluten intolerance because, as I said, the symptoms can be misidentified as a number of conditions.

But, and I know you were waiting for this, here are some of the most common gluten intolerance symptoms:

* Changes in weight
* Iron deficiency.
* Constipation, Diarrhea, Bloating
* Stool containing fatty parts
* Depression and fatigue
* Skin disorders such as eczema
* Irritability and difficulty focusing
* Problems in childbearing – such as miscarriage and irregular menstrual cycle.

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Obviously, this doesn’t sound like anyone’s Christmas list.

These are serious symptoms. But the good news is that treatment is available that can, essentially, eliminate each and every one of the above symptoms.

The main component of any gluten intolerance treatment plan is to avoid gluten and live a gluten free lifestyle.

This may mean drastic changes in your diet, but I have found that with a little getting used to, these changes don’t really impact my life in any powerful way.

I am just more careful in what I eat, and, as a result, I get to avoid all the horrible abdominal problems that I was having over the these last few years.

So, I hope that starts to clear up the confusion on just what is gluten and gluten intolerance.

If you think that you may be suffering from a gluten intolerance, I recommend that you see your doctor as soon as possible for an antibody test.

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Which foods are appropriate for a gluten free diet?

Fortunately for those who are gluten intolerant and vegetarians, there are several gluten free food alternatives to gluten products.

Rice flour, potato starch, quinoa, corn and cassava are excellent choices to include in gluten free diets.

These foods are nutritionally rich, and, like wheat, oats and rye are also high in fiber and protein.

Given proper attention and criteria, gluten free foods contribute for a healthy diet with no nutritional downsides.

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What are the risks of a gluten free diet?

There are a few risks associated with gluten free diets that escape the perception of most consumers.

One is tied to the fact that many gluten free products are being aggressively marketed as healthier alternatives to their gluten counterparts and even as promoting weight loss.

Many of these claims are debatable because they lack any sort of empirical evidence to back them up.

However, the lack of evidence hasn’t stopped a great number of gluten tolerant people from indulging rather recklessly in gluten free diets in the hopes of achieving weight loss or significant health improvements when, in reality, they may be indulging in less healthy diets than before.

The thing is, there’s reduced variety of gluten free foods on the market, which increases the risk of serious nutritional imbalances.

Excessive reliance on the same kind of gluten free food can lead to severe nutritional deficits, namely nutrients as important as calcium, riboflavin, iron, thiamine or folate.

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Symptoms like constipation may also occur due to excessive amounts of fiber.

All these risks can only be avoided by paying very close attention to the nutritional profiles gluten free foods, variety is paramount.

But not many people are willing to invest so much effort in this regard, which, ultimately, leads to the next point.

Who should adopt a gluten free diet?

Given the generally higher cost and the increased necessity to be food-conscientious in order to avoid nutritional imbalances, gluten free diets are no easy ordeal.

A healthy gluten free diet demands a considerable investment of resources and proper education about food nutrition.

This is why this sort of diet is only recommended for gluten intolerant people because those who are tolerant to the protein earn no benefit whatsoever for making such a significant diet change just to get rid of a harmless and beneficial protein.

What you should take away from this article?

Gluten foods rank among the most widespread around the world, and we’re so used to them that we rarely give any thought about possible harm or adverse reaction they might be causing on our health.

Now that you know more about gluten, keep an eye open for possible symptoms; you may very well be gluten intolerant and have never realized it until now.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for gluten intolerance.

For now, a doctor that indicates a gluten free diet is the best treatment available.

But keep in mind that, if you find symptoms of gluten intolerance, you should not stop eating foods containing gluten, abruptly.

Without knowing the exact cause of these symptoms, this action might cause more damage to the body.

Only a professional, after making a bowel biopsy, can make a proper diagnosis of the disease and indicate an appropriate diet.

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