Many foods that people eat every day contain gluten, the protein that makes bread products hold their shape and gives them a chewy texture. The most common source of gluten is wheat, though it's also found in rye, barley, and other grains. For most people, eating gluten isn't a problem, but for some, it can cause damage to the lining of their small intestine. When this happens, the small intestine can't absorb nutrients as well as it should, which can lead to malnutrition. People with a gluten intolerance can also experience a range of unpleasant symptoms in their everyday life.
Technically, there's no such thing as a gluten allergy; what some people experience when they eat products containing gluten is an intolerance, not a true allergy. Allergy medicines also don't work on gluten intolerance. However, people will commonly say that they're "allergic to gluten," as it makes the severity of their issue clearer. When people have a gluten intolerance, consuming gluten gives them digestive issues. When the gluten intolerance is severe, it's often diagnosed as celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, it triggers an immune response that causes the body to attack itself, damaging the gut. There's no cure for celiac disease, so once you're diagnosed with it, you'll have it for life. But celiac disease can be managed by eliminating gluten from your diet.
Symptoms of gluten intolerance can appear as early as infancy, when a child is old enough to have gluten-containing foods introduced into their diet. Common symptoms of gluten intolerance can include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, constipation, gassiness, weight loss, and an itchy rash called dermatitis herpetiformis. Children may also show signs of irritability or vomit. Adults may experience heartburn, anemia, or mouth ulcers as well. Symptoms can vary from person to person, and they may not start promptly after consuming gluten, which can make it tricky to diagnose a gluten intolerance.
People who have a gluten intolerance, celiac disease, or an issue with candida in their digestive tract should adopt a gluten-free diet. The most obvious thing to eliminate is wheat, including any product that contains wheat flour or is produced using wheat in any other way. For example, it's obvious that regular bread isn't gluten-free, but things like soy sauce, malt vinegar, or beer can also contain gluten. You'll also need to remove anything containing barley, rye, bulgur, farro, couscous, semolina, or spelt. Be especially careful with manufactured, packaged foods, which may contain gluten or have been manufactured in an environment where gluten was present. Scrutinize the label of everything you buy to make sure that it's gluten-free.
Adopting a gluten-free diet doesn't have to mean sacrificing flavor or variety in your meals. In fact, these days, more and more manufacturers are broadening their gluten-free offerings, giving you more options for your daily meal plan. For instance, you could start your day with a breakfast of Greek yogurt and berries topped with nuts and a drizzle of honey, or you could make some gluten-free oatmeal. Gluten-free bread and pasta make lunch and dinner easier, and adding plenty of fruits and vegetables to your meals is both gluten-free and healthy. Rice is also usually a safe option, opening up a world of culinary possibilities, from chicken fried rice to Thai spring rolls stuffed with shrimp and basil.