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What is Gluten? – Definition, Benefits, and Side effects

What is Gluten? - Definition, Benefits, and Side effects
What is gluten? Is it bad for you? How does it affect our bodies?

At the present time, cutting gluten out of your diet is one of the fastest growing nutritional movements in the world- and for a lot of good reasons. Indeed, the gluten-free market is skyrocketing exponentially as more and more people opt for this type of diet. This article will give you a basic rundown of what is this elusive gluten and what are the benefits of adopting a gluten-free lifestyle.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a mixture of proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. Oats don’t have gluten but may be contaminated by having been processed on the same equipment as gluten-containing grains, so they’re forbidden on a strict gluten-free diet, too. Foods with flour in them (white or wheat) are the most common culprits when you’re avoiding gluten. The following are obvious gluten-glomming foods:

  • Bagels
  • Beer
  • Bread
  • Cookies, cakes, brownies, and most other baked goods
  • Crackers
  • Pasta
  • Pizza
  • Pretzels

But along with these culprits come not-so-obvious suspects, too, like licorice, most cereals, and some natural flavorings.

Why you shouldn’t eat wheat?

What is Gluten? - Definition, Benefits, and Side effects

When we were kids, we were taught about the food pyramid which has a large portion allotted to wheat and other grains. While wheat and other grains are a good source of fiber and other nutrients, it has its downsides too. So how can wheat be at the root of so many health problems?

1. Humans don’t fully digest wheat

Cows, sheep, and other ruminant animals do just fine with wheat because they have more than one stomach to complete the digestion process. But unlike our bovine buddies, we humans have only one stomach. When the wheat leaves our tummies, it’s not fully digested. Those undigested portions begin to ferment, and do you know what the byproduct of fermentation is? Gas. Icky, belchable, fart-forming gas. For many people, this accounts for the gas and bloating they feel after they eat wheat, whether they have gluten sensitivity or not.

2. Wheat is a pro-inflammatory agent

Foods that have wheat in them, like cereal, pasta, bread and bagels have a pro-inflammatory effect. These foods are rapidly converted to sugar which causes rise in the body’s insulin levels causing a burst of inflammation at the cellular level.

3. Wheat can cause leaky gut syndrome

When people eat wheat, they produce extra amounts of a protein called zonulin. The lining of the small intestine is basically a solid wall of cells that most materials can’t pass through on their own. When important vitamins and minerals are present, zonulin tells the passageways in the intestinal wall to open so those nutrients can pass into the bloodstream. The blood then carries the nutrients to other parts of the body.

When some people eat wheat, they produce too much zonulin and the gates open too wide. All sorts of stuff get into the bloodstream, some of which, like toxins, shouldn’t be there. This increased permeability of the lining of the small intestine, or leaky gut syndrome, can cause lots of different health issues.

What happens to gluten-intolerant people who eat gluten?

What is Gluten? - Definition, Benefits, and Side effects
Gluten-Intolerant People

Many people (knowingly or unknowingly) have an intolerance or sensitivity to gluten. Some people (roughly 1% of the population) have a medical issue (autoimmune) with gluten – this is called celiac disease. Celiac Disease is an extremely common but remarkably underdiagnosed autoimmune disease that gets activated when someone eats gluten. Ultimately, your body turns on itself when dealing with gluten, and your white blood cells attack and can destroy the lining of your small intestine, leading to the lack of absorption of nutrients from your food.

Health Benefits of a Gluten-free diet

What is Gluten? - Definition, Benefits, and Side effects
Gluten-free diet
  • Improves cholesterol levels
  • Promotes digestive health
  • Increases energy levels
  • Eliminates unhealthy and processed foods from your diet (such as oils, fried food, bread, and desserts, etc.)
  • Reduces your risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes
  • Helps ward off viruses and germs as many foods you will now eat will contain more antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals
  • Promotes healthy weight-loss
  • Improves the health of people with irritable bowel syndrome and arthritis
  • Distinctly improved awareness of foods that can have an adverse effect on your health

Forbidden Grains

If you want to incorporate a gluten-free diet to your lifestyle, you should undoubtedly avoid these grains at all costs:

  • Barley
  • Oats (because of contamination issues)
  • Triticale (which is a hybrid of wheat and rye)
  • Rye
  • Wheat

Grains and starches that you can safely eat

  • Amaranth
  • Arrowroot
  • Beans
  • Buckwheat/groats/kasha
  • Chickpeas (such as garbanzo beans, besan, Cici, chana, or gram — not to be confused with graham, which does have gluten)
  • Corn
  • Garfava
  • Job’s Tears
  • Mesquite (for instance pinole)
  • Millet
  • Montina (for example Indian ricegrass)
  • Oats (because they may be contaminated with wheat and other grains)
  • Potato
  • Quinoa (hie)
  • Ragi
  • Rice
  • Sorghum
  • Soy
  • Tapioca (such as gari, cassava, casaba, manioc, yucca)
  • Taro root
  • Teff

Other foods that are usually gluten-free

In general, these foods are usually gluten-free (the list refers to plain, unseasoned foods without additives and processed products):

  • Beans
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Fruit
  • Legumes
  • Meat
  • Nuts
  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Vegetables

Foods that usually contain gluten

  • Beer
  • Bread, breadcrumbs, biscuits
  • Cereal
  • Communion wafers
  • Cookies, cakes, cupcakes, donuts, muffins, pastries, pie crusts, brownies, and other baked goods
  • Cornbread
  • Crackers
  • Croutons
  • Gravies, sauces, and roux
  • Imitation seafood (for example, imitation crab)
  • Licorice
  • Marinades (such as teriyaki)
  • Pasta
  • Pizza crust
  • Pretzels
  • Soy sauce
  • Stuffing

Booze you can drink

  • Bourbon
  • Brandy
  • Cider (occasionally contains barley, so be careful)
  • Cognac
  • Gin
  • Rum
  • Schnapps
  • Tequila
  • Vodka
  • Whiskey (such as Crown Royal and Jack Daniels)
  • Wine (either sparkling wine or Champagne)

Booze to stay away from

  • Beer (with a few exceptions)
  • Distilled spirits that are added back to the mash
  • Malt beverages

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