Whether you’re in the school cafeteria, a restaurant or the grocery store, you’ve probably seen a wide variety of foods that are made especially for people with certain types of food allergies. Have you ever noticed a food package with the words “gluten free” on it? If so, you may have wondered what gluten is.
Gluten is a special type of protein that is found in the most common types of grains, such as wheat, rye and barley. This means that gluten can be found in many different types of foods, including breads, pizza crusts and breakfast cereals.
Most people eat gluten all the time with no problems. Some people, though, can’t eat gluten because it causes a bad reaction in their bodies. This condition is called celiac disease, and up to 1% of the population has it.
If people with celiac disease eat gluten, the gluten causes their bodies’ immune systems to react. Instead of protecting the body from disease, though, the immune system attacks the part of the digestive system that helps to process vitamins and nutrients from food. This can make it hard for people with celiac disease to stay healthy.
If you have celiac disease, the way to treat it is simple: don’t eat gluten! It’s really not as easy as it sounds, though, since gluten is a part of so many foods. With careful planning and help from a doctor, it’s possible to stay away from gluten, so that your digestive system can heal.
Even after the digestive system heals, gluten will always cause problems for people with celiac disease. If they start eating gluten again, the same symptoms — stomach pains and diarrhea — will return. Staying away from gluten — forever — is the only way to stay healthy.
It can be a challenge, especially for children, to remember all the foods that contain gluten. Some, like bread, are easy to remember. Many foods, though, can be tricky. Battered foods, like fried chicken and some French fries, contain gluten. Pasta made from wheat can also contain gluten.
To stay away from gluten, you have to be on the lookout for it all the time. If you’re not sure whether a food has gluten or not, check the food’s packaging for ingredients or ask a restaurant to provide information about the dishes they serve. With practice, you’ll be able to steer clear of gluten more easily.
One other thing you’ll have to keep an eye out for: gluten contamination. People with celiac disease often need their own kitchen equipment and condiments. If someone toasts a piece of wheat bread and the crumbs get in the toaster or in the butter dish, these tiny bits of gluten can contaminate otherwise gluten-free foods and cause problems for people with celiac disease.