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Everything you need to know about gluten

What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley, and rye.
Gluten is the name given to a family of proteins found in all forms of wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. These proteins help bind foods together, maintaining their shape.

Wheat products, such as bread, baked goods, crackers, cereals, and pasta, commonly contain gluten. It is also an ingredient in barley-based products, including malt, food coloring, malt vinegar, and beer.

However, these gluten-containing grains may also occur in other, less obvious foods, such as:

salad dressings
An individual may need to eat a gluten-free diet for several reasons:

Gluten sensitivity: A person with sensitivity to gluten might experience abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, and fatigue after consuming gluten. Eliminating gluten from the diet may improve these symptoms.

Celiac disease: This is an autoimmune disorder in which an intolerance to gluten can damage the small intestine. This can lead to intestinal damage, poor nutrient absorption, and physical pain, although some people with celiac disease do not have any symptoms.

A person with celiac disease should consume a completely gluten-free diet.

All about celiac disease
Other people also choose to follow a gluten-free diet for weight loss or a variety of other health reasons.

However, some people who do not have celiac disease or a gluten allergy experience symptoms similar to people with these conditions. This is known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).

According to the World Journal of Gastroenterology, NCGS may have links to some mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, as well as some autoimmune disorders, such as:

Hashimoto thyroiditis
rheumatologic diseases

Those who do not have celiac disease but have other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and eosinophilic esophagitis, may benefit from avoiding gluten.

Recent research also suggests that NCGS might be a disease of the gut that causes an immune response. Other studies indicate that NCGS may have something to do with changes in gut microbiota or might have genetic, environmental, and pathological causes.

Avoiding gluten
Avoiding gluten is important for people with certain sensitivities.
For individuals trying to avoid gluten, checking ingredient labels is essential.

A person can find out whether a product contains wheat by checking the allergy information section on the label.

Products labeled as wheat-free are not necessarily gluten-free. They may still contain spelt, rye, or barley-based ingredients, for example. These all contain gluten.

A law enacted in August 2013 by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes sure that all products labeled gluten-free are safe for individuals with celiac disease or gluten intolerance to consume.

Some non-food products may also contain hidden sources of gluten in the form of lecithin.

Anyone avoiding gluten should always check the ingredients on the packaging of the following products:

prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications
vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements
lip balm
other skin and hair products
toothpaste and mouthwash
adhesive glue on stamps and envelopes
modeling dough

Individuals with celiac disease should also avoid foods or products that may have come into contact with gluten.

Cross-contact can frequently occur with:

cutting boards
oil used in fried foods
shared containers
Oats often contain gluten through cross-contamination. Check the labels on the packages for oats that are gluten-free.

Gluten-free foods
Fruit and vegetables are naturally gluten-free.
Many natural foods are safe to consume on a gluten-free diet, including:

dairy products
nuts and seeds
other starches, such as potatoes, rice, quinoa, buckwheat, and more
Always check the packaging carefully when buying these products to make sure they do not contain added gluten.

Gluten-free versions of products that would usually contain gluten are also available. The manufacturers of these have replaced specific ingredients to make these foods gluten-free, such as bread, cereals, cookies, or baked goods.

Do not self-diagnose the need for a gluten-free diet.

There must be gluten in the body for a person to receive an accurate diagnosis of celiac disease. This is because gluten produces antibodies in response to ingestion. A doctor can then identify these.

If you suspect that gluten or wheat products are causing irritation or allergies, talk first to your doctor or a registered dietitian.