Quiz: Good to Know Gluten
A True / False Quiz to Get You Started on this Popular TopicBy Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD
True or False?
- Gluten is a protein found in wheat.
- Celiac (also called Tropical Sprue) is a food allergy to gluten.
- Oats contain gluten.
- A gluten-free diet is a low-carb diet.
- It can be easy to live a gluten-free lifestyle.
- The gluten-free diet is just a passing fad.
True or False? Gluten is a protein found in wheat.
True. Gluten occurs naturally in wheat, rye and barley. Wheat varieties also include farro, durum, bulgur and semolina. Other relatives of wheat — triticale (a hybrid grain of rye and wheat), spelt (a cereal grain in the wheat family), and kamut (an ancient grain related to durum wheat) — also contain gluten.
True or False? Celiac (also called Tropical Sprue) is a food allergy to gluten.
False. Celiac Disease is actually an autoimmune disease that causes the body to mistakenly attack itself — in particular, the intestinal lining causing potentially irreparable damage when gluten is consumed: a flattening and destruction to the villi that help us absorb nutrients. A gluten or wheat allergy is also real and may cause irritation — and often more immediate symptoms — but generally the damage to the small intestines is mild even though symptoms may range from swelling and hives to more serious breathing difficulties or even life-threatening anaphylaxis. A person who has Celiac Disease MUST avoid all foods with gluten to avoid irreversible damage over time and a person with a food allergy ‘should’ avoid gluten to avoid uncomfortable symptoms right now.
True or False? Oats contain gluten.
False, BUT some oats are contaminated with wheat during harvesting, transportation, storage, or processing. For example, if oats are rolled in a facility that also processes and packages wheat, the oats could pick up some trace wheat (flour or particles). For someone who has Celiac Disease, any gluten causes damage to the intestinal wall and over time, this damage is irreversible and can lead to serious complications including malabsorption, malnutrition and intestinal ‘dumping’ of nutrient and toxins through the usually-protective intestinal lining.
Because oats are sometime contaminated, this fact has led registered dietitians and health educators in-the-know to say to individuals with gluten intolerance, allergy or Celiac Disease to: “Avoid wheat, rye, barley and ‘sometimes’ oats” to remind us (and you) to be mindful of the packaging and source of our foods.
True or False? A gluten-free diet is a low-carb diet.
False. While some people have adopted a more faddish definition and approach of ‘going gluten free’ to mean they don’t eat grains or other carbs, a gluten-free diet can be a heart-healthy and one rich in complex carbohydrates and fiber. Fruits and vegetables are nutritious carbohydrate sources. And there are actually more grains that are gluten-free than ones that contain gluten.
Here’s an easy-to-reference table thanks to our friends at the Whole Grains Council:
|Grains with Gluten||Gluten-FREE Grains|
|Wheat, including varieties like spelt, kamut, farro and durum, and products like bulgur, semolina
Oats (if ‘contaminated’; look for ‘gluten-free oats’)
Oats are naturally gluten-free so look for varieties that say they are processed in a gluten-free facility
Rice (white, brown, black, and other varieties)
True or False? It can be easy to live a gluten-free lifestyle.
True AND False are both correct answers.
Because of today’s heavily packaged, processed world of food, following a gluten-free diet CAN be challenging — the list of gluten-containing foods is long. Thankfully, foods are required by law to indicate if the food contains wheat or is processed or packaged in a wheat-free environment or in one that also processes wheat beneath the ingredients next to the Nutrition Facts panel. This does not guarantee that a food is gluten free, but can provide a clue toward this major gluten-containing ingredient in the diet (and its derivatives) in the manufactured/packaged food supply. And there are efforts underway by the FDA around gluten-free labeling. Still, if you eat out at all, chances are high you need to get to know the common foods, sauces and ingredients that are likely to contain gluten, as well as getting comfortable with speaking seriously with your waiters and chefs about the serious nature of knowing ingredients and your sensitivity or intolerance.
On the other hand, there are many tasty gluten-free, packaged and prepared foods and even increasingly gluten-free menu options and restaurants that expand the options if you or someone you love follows a gluten-free diet. One note of caution however: gluten-free does not necessarily mean ‘good for you’ or nutritious. You still have to read labels and practice healthy food choices to get the most out of your meals.
AND finally — perhaps most importantly — if you answered TRUE, then you’re right, too! It can be easy to live gluten-free if you follow a whole foods diet with homemade ingredients that you control in your own kitchen. You simply need to be careful of wheat, rye and barley and be sure to buy ‘gluten-free’ oats (those that have been rolled or processed in a gluten-free facility). There are lots of grains that you can consume, along with all fruits and veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, lean proteins, and even delicious healthy treats and desserts.
At Golden Door spa and fitness resort for example — a gluten-free diet — requires only minor adjustments since everything is made from scratch. If we serve a whole wheat pasta or bread, we substitute an alternative grain like brown rice pasta or an almond flour and rice flour dough. If we serve a cookie with whole wheat flour, we substitute an alternative gluten-free grain, or many times, just serve everyone a gluten-free cookie to start with — without having to advertise it. For example, the Golden Door’s famous Jam Dot cookie can be made deliciously using almond flour and gluten-free oats for the grains and finished with a thumbprint of fresh all-fruit preserves. Such a treat!
And the final True or False? The gluten-free diet is just a passing fad.
False. Celiac Disease is real and affects about 1% of the U.S. population (roughly 3 million individuals).
While the proliferation of products can in some ways trivialize the real disease and there are individuals who go ‘gluten-free’ as the next ‘low carb’ movement, for people who are truly sensitive, it’s very real and it’s helpful that we’re diagnosing it earlier and better than ever and taking it seriously.
A gluten-free diet can be health-enhancing and nutritious when carefully planned. And what can be more tasty than a reminder to eat whole, wholesome, nutritious and delicious foods that agree with our own body’s needs?
Wendy Bazilian (www.wendybazilian.com) is a doctor of public health, registered dietitian and freelance writer in San Diego. She is also the Nutrition Advisor at the renowned Golden Door and Co-owner of Bazilian’s Health Clinic with her husband and business partner, Dr. Jason Bazilian. Dr. Wendy is author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet (Rodale).
Follow her on Facebook.