Gluten is a protein that is found in grains that helps food hold together and keep its shape. For those with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, ingesting gluten can wreak havoc on the small intestine, making it harder for the body to absorb nutrients. When this happens, cutting gluten out of your diet is a necessity to living a healthy life. But what foods contain gluten and what are the best ways to avoid accidentally ingesting gluten? Check out these common foods that should be omitted from any gluten-free diet.
Grains are the main source of most gluten. Wheat, rye, barley, triticale and Brewer's yeast all have gluten, as do their derivatives such as malt, starch and graham If you want to consume gluten-free grains, neither corn nor rice contains the protein.
While oats themselves do not contain gluten, they are often grown and harvested alongside wheat fields and have a high chance of being contaminated with gluten. On top of that, the protein found in oats is very similar to gluten and could trigger the body to react as if reacting to gluten.
Pasta is almost always a no-go when it comes to a gluten-free diet because it is traditionally made with wheat flour, meaning most store-bought and restaurant pasta will contain gluten. If you want to have pasta on a gluten-free diet, it's best to hand-roll pasta at home using gluten-free flour or use a substitute such as spaghetti squash.
Bread and pastries are a celiac nightmare, as these foods need gluten to help shape these baked goods and hold them together. As such, avoiding rolls, buns, bagels and bread loaves are crucial to avoid triggering a reaction. Tortillas made from corn flour are generally safe, as the corn flour is devoid of gluten.
Baked goods such as pie, cakes, cookies, muffins, cupcakes and brownies have gluten -- these dessert items are made with wheat flour and are off-limits to those suffering from celiac disease and gluten allergies.
Most cereals, crackers and granola bars contain some level of gluten because they are often made with wheat or rye. When buying any of these items, double check the box to ensure that they are gluten-free.
Many store-bought condiments and spices contain gluten because wheat flour is often used as a thickener or anti-caking agent. Be on the lookout for mustard, salad dressing, gravy, ketchup, barbecue sauce and cream sauces, as they can contain trace amounts of gluten.
Distilled kinds of vinegar are gluten-free because research suggests the distillation process of vinegar breaks down and removes the gluten peptides. However, there is some speculation that this process isn't thorough enough to deal with gluten smaller gluten peptides. Malt vinegar should be avoided on gluten-free diets because the grains in the vinegar have not been removed through the distillation process.
All traditionally-brewed beers contain some form of gluten, and even some hard liquors could contain small amounts of gluten because the distillation process might not remove all of the protein. However, wine is gluten-free, and there are now many gluten-free beers on the market.
Some prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and supplements contain gluten, and companies are not mandated to classify the medication or supplement as gluten-free -- the only way to know for sure is to contact the manufacturer.
The best way to avoid gluten is a whole foods diet. Such diets cut down on the risk of accidentally ingesting gluten from processed foods. Fruits, green vegetables, root vegetables, legumes, rice, fish and meat are inherently gluten-free in their natural form. Look for certified gluten-free products and become an avid food label reader -- learn all the different names of gluten, watch out for the allergen listing and the "shared facility" statement.
The Food and Drug Administration requires any product that is labeled "gluten-free" to test below 20 ppm (parts per million). However, this is not a fail-proof way of knowing a product is really gluten-free, as some products will be labeled "wheat-free" while still containing some levels of gluten.
Cross-contamination can lead to gluten-allergy problems, as restaurants might prepare food using equipment that previously contained foods with gluten -- making specifications clear when eating at a restaurant is crucial, and not reusing the same cutting boards, pans and utensils that have touched gluten without washing them is important as well.