Foods with a "gluten-free" claim are a big—and growing—business these days. But if you've watched the whirlwind of gluten-free marketing unfold without fully understanding what gluten actually is, fear not. You're probably not alone.Gluten is a compound of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. The gluten proteins are found in the mature seed of these cereal grasses, which is refered to as the grain.While you may hear the term "gluten" used to refer to rice (e.g., glutinous rice), rice protein is not actually a gluten and need not be avoided on a gluten-free diet. Conversely, while oats don't technically contain gluten, they're almost always cross-contaminated with wheat gluten due to processing methods in this country. As a result, unless an oat-containing product is specifically labeled "gluten-free," one should assume it contains gluten. The FDA does not yet regulate the use of the term "gluten free", allowing the food industry to take advantage of this term and confuse consumers.
Who should avoid gluten products? People with an immune-mediated wheat allergy and those with Celiac disease must follow a strict gluten-free diet, as gluten triggers harmful reactions. Others who have tested negative for wheat allergy or Celiac disease but still find that eating wheat causes unpleasant side effects may have a non-immune gluten intolerance or a wheat/gluten sensitivity. Those who experience gas and bloating particularly after eating wheat may actually be reacting to a form of carbohydrate in the wheat called fructans, rather than the gluten protein itself. For these latter groups, avoiding wheat and gluten may alleviate uncomfortable side effects.
What are some good options to avoid eating gluten? If you're following a gluten-free diet, either by necessity or choice, your best bet is to choose minimally-processed foods that are naturally gluten-free. Gluten-free oats, brown or wild rice, millet, buckwheat (kasha), and quinoa are nutritious, high-fiber whole grains that are naturally free of gluten. And, as is the case in any healthy diet, eat loads of fruits and vegetables ,make sure your gluten-free diet delivers essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.