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If you look closely at food packaging next time you visit the grocery store, you are likely to run into foods that contain gluten and others that are gluten-free. Gluten is a protein and is primarily found in wheat, barley and rye. It gives foods flavor and makes them slightly chewy. The bad news is, it can wreck havoc on your digestive system and can aggravate symptoms of digestive conditions.
The effect of gluten on the digestive system
Research has discovered that human stomachs are just not evolved enough to digest gluten. It is as simple as that. This does not mean it’s impossible for our bodies to process it. It just means that breaking it down is difficult.
Symptoms caused by gluten
Foods that contain gluten can cause diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, pus or blood in stools, constipation, flatulence and weight loss. These symptoms are very similar to those caused by Irritable Bowel Syndrome and bowel disease.
Foods that contain gluten
Unfortunately, gluten is in more foods than what you might have expected. It is present in any food that contains certain amounts of barley, rye and wheat. It is naturally in barley, bran, bulgur, semolina, wheat, kamut and spelt. If you are worried you won’t have enough fiber, limit your intake considerably or find alternative healthy sources like vegetables.
You can be sure that your favorite cereal contains gluten, whatever brand it might be. In recent years, however, cereal manufacturers are producing lines of gluten-free cereals and most of them are made of rice, oats or corn.
Baked goods are also carriers of gluten. If you are used to nibbling on hotdogs, buns, muffins, bagels, cake, cupcakes and pastry.
Beef, pork, lamb and other meat do not contain gluten. However, frying or coating with breadcrumbs adds gluten.
Other foods that contain gluten are potato chips, tortillas, some gravy, bouillon cubes, canned food, some salad dressings, couscous and beer.
Foods that do not contain gluten
The fresher and closer foods are to their natural state, the less gluten they contain … unless these foods are barley, wheat and rye. Fresh fish, meat and poultry are great foods, provided you don’t deep fry or crumb them. Eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables are also safe to eat. If beans, nuts and seeds are not processed, they won’t contain any gluten. If any of these are canned or packaged, read food labels to check if gluten is present.
Choosing carbohydrates is trickier than protein and fats. Since breads, cereals and pasta can be loaded with gluten; the best substitutes are cornmeal, sorghum, rice, soy and buckwheat.
Celiac disease and gluten
People suffering from celiac disease stand to benefit most from a gluten-free diet. Symptoms of celiac illness resemble those of IBS and if you have been diagnosed with it, you should avoid foods that contain gluten at all costs. Sticking to food without gluten can help reduce and sometimes alleviate symptoms. If symptoms don’t improve, seeking stronger treatment from a doctor is best.