We’ve been hearing a lot about gluten-free diets lately. Entire supermarket shelves are devoted to gluten-free products. But what is gluten, and should you really avoid it?
First, gluten is a type of protein mainly found in wheat, barley, and rye (and in the flours and products derived from these grains). Gluten is harmless unless you have celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder in which the immune system reacts to gluten, causing damage to the lower intestine. Celiac disease can lead to digestive disorders and malabsorption, as well as a wide variety of symptoms throughout the entire body, so it is unlikely to be suspected and very difficult to diagnose. The only treatment is to avoid gluten altogether, which explains the growing interest in gluten-free products. Various grains and substitutes are available on the market, including rice, quinoa, soy, corn, flax, potatoes, legumes, and more. Avoiding gluten entirely is no simple task, and it may require the guidance of a health professional such as a registered dietician.