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What is a Gluten Free Diet?

The Gluten-free diet is a diet that exclude gluten. Gluten is a protein that is naturally found in many plants, especially grains like wheat, barley, and rye, that helps to give foods structure. In fact, gluten is largely responsible for the pleasing texture of bread and other baked goods. Since it’s such an effective filler, gluten is commonly added to many processed foods and is even used in some medications. Traditionally, though, it was only intended to treat some very specific health conditions. Within the past few years, however, the use of this diet has expanded immensely.

What is a Gluten Free Diet?

 

Recently – and with stunning speed – the once virtually unknown gluten has become a sort of dietary villain in the minds of many people. Which means that a gluten free diet, avoiding this particular substance, has gained lots of popularity.

But, what is gluten? Who should avoid it? What’s the science behind the gluten free diet?

Meet Gluten

Although many people know that gluten exists, they often are not fully aware of what it actually is. Gluten is a protein that is naturally found in many plants, especially grains, that helps to give things structure. In fact, gluten is largely responsible for the pleasing texture of bread and other baked goods.

Since it’s such an effective filler, gluten is commonly added to many processed foods and is even used in some medications. In fact, gluten – or gluten-containing foods – are in many more products that you might think.

Why Avoid It?

So, what’s the problem? In just about 1 percent of people, an auto-immune condition called Celiac Disease causes a severe reaction to gluten. When individuals with this condition eat foods containing the plant protein – specifically from wheat, barely and rye – their immune system attacks the villi lining the small intestine. These tiny, finger-like structures handle nutrient absorption. But when they get damages, as in the case of Celiac Disease, they can’t do that job. Sufferers, then, can face a host of potentially life-threatening symptoms caused by nutrient deficiencies.

As was mentioned, though, Celiac Disease is only present in about 1 out of every 100 people. A lot more people than lot are off gluten, though. Although the condition was long dismissed by doctors, recent research has identified Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) as a legitimate health concern. Patients with NCGS often experience some of the symptoms of Celiac Disease – including difficulty thinking, depression, digestive problems, headaches, fatigue and chronic pain – but do not test positive for Celiac Disease.

Right now, the only way to confirm a diagnosis of NCGS is to go off gluten. If your symptoms improve, NCGS is likely at the root of the problem.

Other Reasons

Very often, though, people avoid gluten even when they don’t fall into one of the two categories discussed above. In large part, this is because of claims from various experts asserting that gluten is responsible for a host of conditions including cancer, obesity and Alzheimer’s.

Gluten has been shown to have inflammatory action in the human body, the severity of which can vary widely from person to person. If this inflammation is frequent and powerful enough, many complications can occur. Research has also found a definite link between Celiac Disease and dementia. Whether the same connection is present in individuals without Celiac Disease, though is still being hotly debated.

Ultimately…

So, simply put, the gluten-free diet is a diet that is free of gluten. That much is pretty easy. Things get a little more complex, though, when you start trying to tease apart some of the theories and research surrounding this particular plant protein.

Really, if you notice any negative changes in your body when you eat gluten that go away when you avoid the protein, then you should go gluten-free. The diet is fairly restrictive, though, since gluten is in just about every processed and packaged food out there.

It’s also important to point out that just because a food is labeled as “gluten free,” that doesn’t make it inherently better for you. In fact, foods that normally contain gluten usually suffer for taste and texture once it’s removed. To fix the situation, manufacturers generally load that food up with other fillers, salt, fat and sugar to make it more palatable.

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