Living Gluten Free

Until fairly recently it was difficult to find gluten free prepared foods, let alone gluten free flours with which to bake your own. Today labeling items ‘gluten free’ is a major branding strategy, but what is gluten and why do some people benefit from reducing, if not completely abstaining from it?

flour1What is gluten?

Gluten is a storage protein found in wheat and some other grains including barley, rye, spelt, kamut and triticale. Gluten is what makes bread elastic and helps it rise, and gives pastries their light, flakey texture. Gluten can also make some people sick without their knowledge.

Want to learn more?

Over the last few year there has been a large and fast increase in the number of books written about gluten. Many of you have been bringing to our attention your favorite books and articles, and as we review them, we will add links below. One very safe and informative website for more information about gluten and many things related is www.celiac.com. There you can find more information on gluten, gluten intolerance, celiac disease, gluten-free recipes, and links to additional websites and articles.  Feel free to send us your reading suggestions.

Why follow a gluten-free diet?

Some folks must not eat gluten in order to stay physically and mentally functional. Others simply feel better once they’ve cut gluten out of their diet. As research continues on the effects of gluten on particular portions of society, more is revealed about how many common ailments can be drastically reduced by removing gluten from the diet.


True food allergies involve a hypersensitive immune system reaction to normally benign foods. About 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies, of which wheat is common.  Differentiating between a common allergy or celiac disease may be difficult without professional medical help. Some symptoms to gluten allergies can be easily attributed to diet, such as indigestion, abdominal pains, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.  Other symptoms may include asthma, dizziness, joint pain, anemia, depression and more. Food allergy tests can be easily administered by a physician.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease, thought to afflict one in 133 Americans, is an autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive process of the small intestine when gluten is consumed. Villi are tiny hair-like projections lining the intestines which absorb nutrients as they pass through the digestive tract. When someone suffering celiac disease ingests gluten, an autoimmune reaction occurs, the villi shrink and are flattened and are no longer able to absorb nutrients necessary for a healthy body.  Symptoms of celiac disease such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and fatigue occur in only one-third to one-half of celiacs, yet damage to their intestines continues in those with no symptoms. While tests exist, there is no cure for celiac disease, only treatment: complete abstinence from gluten.


Approximately one in 150 children is estimated to have autism, a condition that continues to perplex the medical community. While many questions remain about the cause and diagnosis of autism, many experts advocate a gluten-free diet, believing that autistic children don’t process gluten properly. Links between the diet and autism go beyond just children: a recent study from the Danish National Psychiatric Registry show that children whose mothers have celiac disease face a risk of autism that is up to three times higher than that of the general population.


Approximately 5.4 million children have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the symptoms of which include trouble with focus, patience, and over-activity. The brains of children who lack the enzymes needed to break down gluten respond to gluten with an opium-like effect, some of which may explain the impaired attention exhibited by children with ADHD. Some parents advocate treatment of ADHD with a gluten-free diet, seeing an improvement in their children’s behavior when placed on a strict diet.

Intolerance or Sensitivity

Experts estimate that 10% to 15% of Americans show intolerance to gluten. Symptoms to gluten intolerance or sensitivity may be delayed and subtle and often include nasal congestions, headaches, achy joints, rashes, stomachaches and more.  While sensitivity may be a mild annoyance to some, a recent study in the British Journal of Medicine shows a strong link between gluten sensitivity and schizophrenia.While tests exist for food intolerance, food sensitivity is recognized only through dietary trial and error.


There are a great variety of flours now available at supermarkets and health food stores that can be used (with varying degrees of recipe alteration) in lieu of flours containing gluten. Rice, sorghum, potato and tapioca are the most prevalent, but it is now possible to buy buckwheat, teff, almond or gluten free oat flours at many main stream grocery stores.

Common Questions

Where is gluten found?

Gluten can be found in breads, crackers, cookies, pastas, tortillas, cakes; anything made from wheat (that includes ‘white’ flour!), barley, rye, spelt and kamut. Gluten is also hidden in broths, deli meats, bouillon, salad dressings, soy sauce, tea, and much more!

Are Oats Gluten Free?

While oats and oat flour are naturally gluten-free, they may be contaminated in the growing and refining process: be sure to buy oats that are dedicated ‘gluten free’ such as Bob’s Red Mill gluten free oats and oat flour. While oats are naturally gluten free, a small number of celiacs are also sensitive to avenin, a protein found in oats.

How do I know if I am allergic to gluten or have celiac disease?

If you have symptoms such as those listed above and are concerned about celiac disease, contact your family physician.  The good news is that a biopsy is no longer necessary in order to determine whether celiac disease is present, but the bad news is that you must eat gluten en mass for a length of time before getting a blood test (thereby having to suffer from the symptoms just a little while longer).