Over the last few years gluten-free products have been multiplying; on grocery store shelves, food menus, and in many people’s cupboards. Gluten, the main protein found in wheat, rye and barley (acting as a glue to hold food together and maintain its shape), has gained quite a following. So, what is the deal, really? Is this just another food trend that will blow over, or is this a fad that is for real? November is Gluten-Free Diet Awareness month, so it seems like the perfect time to dive into this topic!
Around two million people in the U.S. suffer from Celiac Disease (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases), an autoimmune disease triggered by gluten consumption, and nearly 18 million people in the U.S. have a gluten intolerance (webmd.com). The difference between the disease and the intolerance is the severity of the symptoms. When someone suffers from Celiac Disease, their body will actually attack their own tissues (in this case the small intestine) causing inflammation, lack of nutrient absorption leading to long-term damage and a whole host of symptoms. A person who has a gluten intolerance will experience mild to moderate bloating and stomach discomfort and possibly a variety of other symptoms after eating foods with gluten. So, how exactly does a person end up with these conditions?
Celiac Disease is caused by an abnormal gene, is hereditary, and can develop at any time in a person’s life - anytime after they have started to consume gluten. While the verdict is still out as to what can cause gluten intolerance, some research suggests that the sensitivity might actually be to a certain carbohydrate found in foods. The research explains that these individuals are unable to absorb the carbohydrate, which causes it to remain in their gut and ferment, leading to bloating, indigestion, etc. Other research suggests that the intolerance is caused by wheat, negatively affecting the lining of a person’s digestive tract, which leads to bacteria leaking out of the intestines and causing inflammation. A gluten intolerance can also develop at any time in a person’s life, after they have consumed gluten. When it comes to Celiac Disease, gluten should definitely be avoided to prevent long-term damage to the small intestine. A person with a gluten intolerance doesn’t have to avoid gluten, but depending on the severity of their symptoms it may be in their best interest to do so (i.e. who wants to be bloated and uncomfortable after eating?).
Perhaps you choose to avoid gluten even though you don’t have Celiac or an intolerance, and since anyone can develop an intolerance at any time, we totally get it. However, gluten isn’t found only in breads, pastas, and pizza - it can find its way into multivitamins, frozen vegetables, sauces, processed foods, and even toothpaste! One easy way to be sure the product you are purchasing is gluten-free is to look for a certified, gluten-free label. You can find the Gluten-Free Certification Organization’s label (GFCO.org) on our OHi Wholesome Bars. GFCO is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower the gluten-free community through things like advocacy and education. Because of their integrity, standards, and focus on consumer safety, their label is the most widely used and trusted when it comes to gluten-free certification marks. In order to be awarded this certification mark, products undergo rigorous testing to be sure that every ingredient will meet their strict standards.
Now that you know what label to look for when loading your cart with gluten-free goods, let’s chat for a minute about nutrition. When you decide to make this lifestyle change it is important that you are getting the nutrients you might be missing from the foods that contain gluten. For instance, wheat is an excellent source of fiber (and the average American diet is already lacking in fiber), and before you remove it be sure you have found a safe, gluten-free source with which to replace it. Some of our favorite gluten-free fiber go-to’s are: fresh fruits and veggies, lentils, oats, nuts, and seeds. You can find coconut, almonds, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds loaded up in our OHi Wholesome Bars.
Most breads and cereals that contain gluten are also fortified with B vitamins, which can be lacking in their gluten-free counterparts. You’ll want to be sure you have a replacement for this important vitamin complex before you toss out all of your gluten-filled foods. Our favorite whole food sources of B vitamins are: nutritional yeast, leafy greens (spinach, romaine, and collard greens), legumes (chickpeas, edamame, and black beans), pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, and spirulina. The latter three, yes you guessed it, can all be found in our OHi Wholesome Bars!
Well, it certainly seems as though the gluten-free lifestyle isn’t a trend that will be leaving anytime soon! Ditching gluten may or may not be your thing, but we are so lucky to have such an array of safe, quality gluten-free products available to us these days that actually taste amazing (even products that are packed with important nutrients!). We know that only you know what is best for your health, and we are here to support you along the way!