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DID YOU KNOW?

Gluten-free: What does that mean?

Gluten is found in grains, such as wheat, barley, rye, and a cross between wheat and rye called triticale.

A gluten-free diet helps manage symptoms of celiac disease and other medical conditions associated with gluten. This type of diet also has gained popularity among people without gluten-related medical conditions. The claimed benefits of the diet are improved health, weight loss and increased energy.

Removing gluten from your diet likely changes your overall intake of fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. Therefore, regardless of your reasons for following a gluten-free diet, it's important to know how it can affect your overall nutritional needs:

  • Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which gluten triggers immune system activity that damages the lining of the small intestine. Over time, this damage prevents the absorption of nutrients from food.
  • Gluten sensitivity causes some of the same signs and symptoms associated with celiac disease — including abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, foggy brain, rash or headache — even though there is no damage to the tissues of the small intestine. Studies show that the immune system plays a role, but the process isn't well-understood.
  • Gluten ataxia is an autoimmune disorder that affects certain nerve tissues, and causes problems with muscle control and voluntary muscle movement.
  • Wheat allergy, like other food allergies, is the result of the immune system mistaking gluten or some other protein found in wheat as a disease-causing agent, such as a virus or bacteria. The immune system creates an antibody to the protein, prompting an immune system response that may result in congestion, breathing difficulties and other symptoms.

Your health care provider or a dietitian can help you make appropriate dietary choices to maintain a well-balanced diet.

GLUTEN-FREE FOOD LABELS

When you are buying processed foods, you need to read labels to determine if they contain gluten. Foods that contain wheat, barley, rye or triticale — or an ingredient derived from them — must be labeled with the name of the grain in the label's content list.

Foods that are labeled gluten-free, according to the Food and Drug Administration rules, must have fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten. Foods with these labels may include:

  • Naturally gluten-free food
  • A prepared food that doesn't have a gluten-containing ingredient
  • Food that has not been cross-contaminated with gluten-containing ingredients during production
  • Food with a gluten-containing ingredient that has been processed to remove gluten

Alcoholic beverages made from naturally gluten-free ingredients, such as grapes or juniper berries, can be labeled gluten-free. An alcoholic beverage made from a gluten-containing grain can carry a label stating the beverage was processed, treated or crafted to remove gluten. However, the label must state that gluten content cannot be determined and the beverage may contain some gluten.