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What Is Gluten?

Seems like everywhere you turn, there's a new gluten-free product on the shelf. So what, exactly, does that even mean — gluten?

Gluten is the elastic protein in wheat, rye and barley. It is used as a thickening agent in some sauces, soups, stews, salad dressings and more. Most breads and baked goods rely on gluten for elasticity.

Some people avoide gluten because of an allergy to wheat, which causes typical symptoms associated with allergic reaction. Others are gluten intolerant, experiencing conditions like joint or muscle pain, fatigue and headaches.

The most serious gluten condition, however, is Celiac disease, which attacks the immune system. If left untreated, intestinal damage can lead to other serious disorders of the immune system.

Ways to Avoid Gluten

If you need to avoid gluten, here are some substitutes that can help:

  • Brown rice flour
  • Tapioca flour
  • Potato flour
  • Unflavored gelatin
  • Soy milk
  • Buckwheat
  • Cottage cheese
  • Flax
  • Corn meal

Moreover, jams, butters, honey and other spreads can be contaminated if the utensil used on bread is returned to the jar. So don't reuse utensils. For that matter, pasta can leave a residue in a colander that has not been cleaned well.

Read the Label

Gluten is found in many foods that you would not expect. If you're unsure if a product is gluten free, read the label. If you see any of the following words on the label, steer clear:

  • Wheat
  • Wheat starch
  • Barley
  • Triticale
  • Rye

This article is not intended to be a comprehensive guide about Celiac disease. For more information, fo to the Celiac Disease Foundation, Celiac Support Association, Gluten Intolerance Group and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.

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