What does Gluten-Free Mean?

GF was something I’d see on some packaging in supermarkets but never really known what it was all about.  GF stands for gluten-free.  If you have an ill effect from gluten found in wheat, barley, rye, and sometimes oats then you know to look for GF on packaging.

Celiac disease is the common name for this digestive problem.  It’s an autoimmune deficiency in which the small intestine is slowly damaged.  This makes a person malnourished because the body is unable to absorb the protein and nutrients from the foods eaten.  About 2 million people suffer from this disorder but are unaware or misdiagnosed.  Some patients can go ten years before knowing that celiac disease is what they have.   This condition can be passed off as other gastrointestinal issues such as lactose intolerance or IBS and only a blood test and a small intestine biopsy can verify this as celiac disease.

Celiac disease is a  genetic one so if a family member is diagnosed others may have it as well.  It’s interesting to note that Irish, Italian, and UK descendants are most affected.   Also, a trigger of stress, pregnancy, or exposure to gluten before three months of age can attribute to developing this gluten intolerance.  Symptoms include chronic diarrhea, unexplained weight loss, anemia, fatigue, constipation, and vomiting.

The only treatment for this, unfortunately, is to avoid foods that have gluten in it.  Easier said then done, I’m sure, because gluten is found in everything- pizza, pasta, cereal, and most processed foods… but if one thinks of gluten as a poison I guess this horrific task seems easier.  Not only does the celiac person have to read labels more than a mediocre health-conscious person does, they have to worry about cross-contamination and gluten in other products such as condiments, medicines, mouthwash and even cosmetics… Yes a person with a gluten intolerance has to be OCD because even the tiniest bit of gluten can explode into bloating, chronic diarrhea, and/or cramps for days or even weeks.

It helps that labeling for GF products started a couple of years ago, but it is still recommended to read all ingredients all the time.  The good news is that fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, and rice do not have gluten so ease and variety can be given to those foods.  And just because breads, pasta, and cereals may contain gluten, there are products made from soy, pea, potato starch, and corn that could be easily used instead.  Puffed corn, hot cereals made from soy or hominy flakes, and rice crackers and pastas are just a few examples of what a person with gluten intolerance will be able to eat.

Of all the disorders associated with food, I could see how being celiac could be a pretty bad one.  From my understanding there are many recipes for substitutions on the Web and even support groups with people experiencing the same type of thing.

I’d like to thank my source Celiac Disease for helping me to understand this condition better.


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