There is a lot of buzz about gluten-free foods, and perhaps you've noticed that nearly every brand of food is creating a gluten-free version of your favorite cracker, cookie and bread? There are many reasons for this: first, new cases of gluten sensitivity (in all forms) are being diagnosed with increasing frequency. And in order to feed that need, companies are making gluten-free foods one of the biggest markets in the grocery industry, expected to grow into a billion-dollar industry in the next few years. But does this mean that everyone needs to eat gluten-free food?
Let's look into some of the basics of gluten and why you might (or might not) choose to avoid it.
First, what is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in many grains, including wheat, barley, spelt and rye. Gluten protein is a composite of a gliadin and a glutenin, which are about 80% of the protein found in wheat (less in other gluten-containing grains). Gluten is a stretchy, firm protein that can best be understood as the binder that gives pizza dough that magic stretchiness. It can be used as an additive to bread baking or turned in a wide variety of meat-substitutes like vegan bacon and veggie burgers. 
Is there a difference between gluten intolerance, gluten allergy and celiac sprue disease? Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. When people with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten, their immune system responds abnormally to the partially digested proteins, which damages the lining of the small intestine. Because of this damage, the small intestine does not function properly and the body is unable to absorb nutrients. Celiac disease can be difficult to diagnose because it can present in a variety of different ways. Over 1% (or over 3 million people) suffer with celiac disease, and most are undiagnosed. The only treatment for celiac disease is a lifelong gluten-free diet.
Gluten Sensitivity: Some people have negative reactions to gluten, but may not
necessarily have celiac disease. This is sometimes referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and estimates show that 18 million Americans live with this condition. Though those with sensitivity may experience similar symptoms to celiac disease, there is not the same autoimmune response and intestinal damage. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is an innate immune response, as opposed to an adaptive immune response or allergic reaction. 
Wheat/Gluten allergies: There is a third kind of issue that may present in the same way as celiac disease but is altogether different. A wheat or gluten allergy is diagnosed by positive IgE or IgG assays (blood tests for Immunoglobulin E or G). Diagnosis is made through blood testing and an elimination diet. Additionally, some people might be sensitive to wheat only, but able to enjoy other gluten-containing grains like spelt or rye.
How to avoid gluten: If you want to avoid gluten, you must learn where gluten is naturally found, but also learn to recognize wheat-derivatives found in processed foods.
- Know your allergies: whether you are just slightly allergic or diagnosed with celiac disease, know what you can and cannot eat and be mindful of it at all times.
- ALWAYS read labels: processed foods, sauces, candies and more may contain wheat in various forms.
- While dining out, you must work with servers and staff to ensure the safety of gluten-free preparations and be aware that cross-contamination may affect your meal.
- Don't forget the hidden gluten found in soy sauce, beer, gravy and more (even in the curry at my local Thai restaurant!)
But don't fear: there are lots of ways to enjoy gluten free living with feeling like you have to sacrifice. Some of the foods that we eat everyday are already gluten-free: soups, salads, stir-frys with rice, corn tortilla chips, smoothies and more. Experiment with some new types of rice, fun and interesting ancient grains like millet and quinoa; learn to make healthy swaps with brown rice pasta instead of semolina (wheat) pasta. You may even find you like it better! And don't forget to seek out healthy inspiration: my favorite gluten-free bloggers are those that focus on the JOY of whole foods living rather than trying to rework all their favorite recipes with new flours. Some great gluten-freedom resources include:
- Allyson Kramer
- Oh She Glows (not all GF but mostly)
- The Healthy Apple
- Spunky Coconut
- What Runs Lori?
- Healthful Pursuit
What's your favorite gluten-free resource? How do you live gluten-free?
Please note: we're bloggers, not doctors. Please consult a licensed medical practitioner to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent and disease or symptoms.
 From Wikipedia: IgE also plays an essential role in type I hypersensitivity which manifests various allergic diseases, such as allergic asthma, allergic rhinitis, food allergy, and some types of chronic urticaria and atopic dermatitis. IgE also plays a pivotal role in allergic conditions, such as anaphylactic reactions to certain drugs, bee stings, and antigen preparations used in specific desensitization immunotherapy.