The Gluten-Free Diet: Hidden Gluten

By Audrey M. Smith

Whether going gluten free due to celiac disease, sensitivity, or as part of an anti-inflammatory diet, it is important to be aware of the many hidden sources of gluten that can affect your health. It is frustrating to think you are making all the right food choices to find you have been "glutenized." Then after suffering pain and gastrointestinal upset for days, bloating up like you are eight months pregnant and cannot fit into a thing, you face the challenge of figuring out the gluten culprit in your seemingly perfect diet. It can be a wearisome, ongoing dilemma. Creating a "safe" list of foods helps lower the chances of a gluten assault.

What's All the Fuss?

Gluten is a protein found in grains. Grains with a long chain gluten molecule, such as wheat, rye, and barley, cause inflammation in the small intestines of celiacs and increase the risk of some diseases. Reactions vary from cramping and diarrhea to bone and joint pain, painful bloating, swelling, vomiting, and difficulty concentrating, to skin irritation, to name a few. Sometimes there is no apparent reaction, however damage to the villi of the small intestine, which are responsible for nutrient absorption, still occurs.Eventually, the decreased absorption of nutrients due to damage to the small intestines causes vitamin deficiencies that affect the nervous system, the liver, bones, and other organs by decreasing the vital nutrients needed for health. Some people have difficulty gaining weight with gluten in the diet, while others have problems losing weight. With all the negative effects, it is important to understand where unwanted gluten may be entering the diet.

Other grains, such as oats, have a reputation of causing reactions in celiacs and those sensitive to wheat, for example. The culprit is usually not the grain itself, but cross contamination from other glutinous grains in the field, during transportation, and in processing the grains. Being a celiac, I have found that I have a proclivity toward uncomfortable reactions to some gluten free (GF) grains, as well.

With such a small amount of gluten - only one-eighth teaspoon - causing an adverse reaction, it s easy to see how seemingly miniscule, hidden sources of gluten can accumulate in the body system daily and wreak havoc.

As you go through the list and research your favorite products online, you will be shocked that so many products contain gluten. I wonder how our food system became so dependent wheat and fillers. Gluten is present in foods one would never dream should contain wheat, barley, or rye, such as ice cream, salad dressing, nuts, juice, and salad greens. Why has so much junk entered our food chain that food labels read like lab experiments instead of the basic fuel our bodies need to be healthy. Read on!

Hidden Sources of Gluten

In Foods

With manufacturer striving to improve products and shave costs, recipes constantly change. It can be challenging and frustrating to find your gluten free pasta sauce is not so gluten free anymore. Some manufacturers have stepped forward and label their products gluten free. Some clearly list gluten containing products on their label, however, not all are that cooperative. Foods can also be processed with gluten and are not required to list the ingredient on the label. Additives and flavorings are often from gluten sources. If in doubt, call, email, or go to the company's website. Many list their GF products, while others list company policy. Policies often state whether the manufacturer clearly lists ingredients containing gluten on the label or not. Unfortunately, for some products this is an ongoing nuisance for those that are sensitive to gluten.. I compose a GF list of brands and foods and stay with it, periodically checking products prone to ingredient changes.

Gluten Contamination in the Home

A hidden source of gluten in the home is the kitchen. When gluten-free items are stored and used along side those containing gluten, contamination occurs. Wooden cutting boards harbor gluten particles; as can wooden bowls, grill tops, griddles, silverware drawers (crumbs!), nylon spatulas, plastic containers, colanders and strainers, and nonstick cooking surfaces of pans. Use dedicated cooking and food prep gear, including toasters, bread makers, and can openers.

Cross-contamination also occurs when utensils and containers are shared at the same meal. How much gluten gets into peanut butter, condiments, and margarine containers shared by the entire family? Simply spreading a piece of whole wheat bread with soy mayonnaise and putting the knife back into the jar leaves crumbs behind that accumulate in the container. Use two separate containers for these types of products, clearing marking one "GF." Make everyone aware of the system. A designate space in the refrigerator and pantry for GF foods also helps cut down on cross-contamination.

Dishwashing liquids and detergents for both hand washing and machine washing are another source of hidden gluten. Not only can the gluten irritate skin of those sensitive, residues may remain on dishes. I use Bioclean and find it more economical and better at cleaning the dishes. It takes only one tablespoon of powdered dishwasher detergent per load and has a nice fresh citrus scent. I know others who have had luck with Seventh Generation, as well. If GF products are not available in your area, order online. I save money ordering mine (Tip: Watch for sales and buy in quantity! I also order liquid laundry detergent, as well. So little is needed that it lasts forever, plus has natural ingredients, and works well!) Check manufacturer's website to see if your current product is GF.

All of this seems like a lot to remember - and it is even for someone who has been living GF for years as I have. Too often I am faced with trying to figure out what's going on in my body: is it the flu, do my legs hurt because of bone pain due to gluten or exertion, have I eaten gluten unaware, or am I itchy like crazy for some other reason? It is an ongoing challenge to figure out where the gluten came from this time. I have several friends that unfortunately share this problem, as well. It helps to talk with them about what's going on - like when two of use became quite sick when eating a tomato product that listed no gluten ingredients on the label, but must have been processed or cross contaminated with it.

I live in the New England States where there is more awareness of gluten issues and a higher rate of diagnosis. Fortunately, too, many grocers across our country have a GF product list on their website and at customer service for the asking. It makes it much easier to shop. My grocer's list contains only store brand products, so looking at labels and researching manufacturers is still necessary for other brands. There are books published annually of GF foods, but with ever-changing recipes and veganism, I find it easier to compile my own list. Go to your favorite vegan/vegetarian company websites and see what GF products each offers. Grow your own. Some forego grains and substitute in other complex starches like sweet potatoes, lentils, winter squashes, garbanzo beans, and colorful potato varieties - whatever works for you. There are many choices available for a healthy, balanced GF diet. You can order GF food online now. Even has it - in money-saving quantities at that!


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