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What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley. These are all cereal grains, and these proteins are found in the mature grains. Gluten is also the compound that gives breads and other baked goods that elasticity, that chewiness, that heavenly light texture associated with bread, cake, cookies and muffins.

Gluten is also abundant in processed foods and sauces, such as soy sauce and meat gravies. Any product that uses wheat, rye, or barley or a by-product of these grains contains gluten.

For anyone with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, ingesting this protein results in serious health issues. For those with celiac disease, there's damage to the lower intestines, enough so that it could result in such conditions as cancer if left untreated.

The only treatment for celiac disease is to follow a gluten-free diet. It's a strict diet that completely eliminates any foods containing a cereal grain, or any foods that include a derivative of a cereal grain.

The only treatment for gluten intolerance is to follow a gluten-free diet. The consequences of ingesting gluten may not be quite as dire as for those with celiac disease, but the symptoms are just as uncomfortable, and may ultimately lead to chronic fatigue, headaches, joint and muscle pain, and digestive discomfort.

For those with such conditions as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and other digestive or auto-immune diseases, a gluten free diet may relieve many of the symptoms. Take note, though, that a gluten free diet doesn't cure any medical conditions, including celiac disease. It addresses the symptoms and prevents further damage to the digestive tract.

A gluten free diet is not a fad diet; it does not make you lose weight, tone your muscles, or make you leap tall buildings. If you don't have celiac disease, a gluten intolerance, or any digestive disorder or immune disorder, don't go on a gluten free diet. Cereal grains actually have nutritional value, and you're missing those nutrients if you go on a gluten free-diet.

Celiac disease is an auto-immune condition; the ingestion of gluten triggers the immune system defenses, and the result is nutritional robbery: The body fails to properly absorb nutrients due to intestinal damage, resulting in malabsorption. This results in vitamin deficiency, weakened bones, and possibly cancer, among other medical conditions.

Fortunately, the damaged intestines can heal, if exposure to gluten is eliminated. With the help of vitamins, probiotics, and other supplements, and a diet rich in other healthy foods, such as fruit, veggies, and protein rich foods such as beans and lean meats, anyone with celiac disease can live a long and healthy life - symptom free.

Going gluten free doesn't mean you have to give up the baked goods, though. There are plenty of other flours you can use such as rice flour, bean flour, and potato flour, among others, for baking. Check out my review of flours on my blog, Contemporary Cooking. And check out our videos on YouTube for gluten free baking recipes.

Article copyrighted: Shelly McRae
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