What is Gluten Free?
What is gluten, anyway? Have you noticed the word popping up a lot recently? It’s almost always associated with someone who has experienced an allergic attack. In the media and especially among celebrities, gluten is deemed “public enemy number 1.” So, should everyone be avoiding gluten or just people whose immune system can’t handle it? What is gluten free? And where can you find gluten-free products?
There are many questions, but here’s a quick overview:
Gluten in Man’s Diet
First of all, gluten is a catch-all term for the gliadin protein and other compounds which make people sick. It’s found in cereal grasses many refer to as grains. Gluten is different from other grains because of its unique structure and attractive binding quality. It is this versatile binding-quality that gives dough its elastic consistency, keeping pizza lovers coming back for more. Everywhere you turn, gluten can be found in cuisines around the globe.
A trip to the supermarket shows you how much gluten is an integral part the Standard American Diet (SAD). You can find it among breads, wheat, pasta, cereals, crackers, cakes, snacks and candies, soy sauce, instant coffee, meat substitutes, and yep, most processed foods.
The History of our Grain-Gluten Diet
Man’s flirtation with grains, began over the last few thousand years (some say 10,000 years ago), at the beginning it was limited to a few wild grasses and seeds. Before the agricultural revolution these grains were largely inedible and unpalatable. Through farming and cultivation however, early civilizations slowly incorporated grains into their diets. With the invention of the mill people were able to break down the grasses mechanically in a way that our bodies never could. Grains also keep very well, and early civilizations prized the ability to grow and store food – breaking the feast-and-famine cycle. Eventually farming led to increased technological sophistication and with it–population growth.
In several studies over the last 100 years, an astonishing fact came to light; cities that had the highest rate of grain consumption also had the highest rate of cancer. In stark contrast, the reverse held true; cities with the least amount of grain consumption had isolated or no cases of cancer.
A gluten free diet is one that excludes the protein – gluten – found in grains. A gluten-free diet is often followed by people who are aware of the harmful effects of gluten. Many people’s first experience is when they are diagnosed with Celiac Disease. People who suffer with Celiac Disease have inflammation of the gut caused by gluten. Eliminating it from the diet calms the small intestine, reduces inflammation and prevents painful symptoms.
One important thing to note about gluten is that it is a storage protein. Therefore, it is found in mature grass seeds like wheat, barley and rye, but NOT found in the young green grasses that sprout from these seeds. Also, note that rice does not contain gluten; oats, though technically gluten free are almost always contaminated with gluten during processing.
Pros and Cons of Gluten
Pros: There aren’t any direct health benefits to gluten itself. However, it’s found in many whole grains which are otherwise considered healthful. It’s cheap and delicious.
Cons: Everyone is affected by the inflammation caused by gluten. While some people exhibit stronger symptoms (Celiac Disease), everyone is adversely affected by the inflammation gluten causes. Most people develop sensitivities like bloating, irritability, grogginess, headaches, acne, gas and other gastrointestinal upsets. And while gluten is found in some grains that have healthful properties, most people find gluten in their diet through the “bad” foods, you know, the empty calorie, blood-sugar rising, tempting ones (pastas and pastries).
Because “gluten-free” and its claim on product labels are not yet regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration, the only protective way to limit your consumption in “hidden” foods is to choose minimally processed foods.
Whoever said a gluten-free diet is no fun has yet to think outside the bread-box.
Healthy Surprise’s Policy on Gluten
We do require our snacks to be free of any ingredient that contains gluten (ie wheat).
We do require our snacks to be labeled as ‘Gluten Free’ when a similar snack or ingredient could contain gluten (this would apply to a bar, but not dried fruit).
We do not require our snacks to be ‘Gluten Free Certified’.
We do not require our snacks be made in a completely ‘gluten free facility’.
Why not ‘Gluten Free Certified’ or ‘Gluten Free Facility’?
Our mission is to help our partner snack companies grow and be successful. The process of becoming Gluten Free Certified is complicated and expensive, and requires product to be made in a Gluten Free Facility. When companies are starting out, innovating on their recipes, or just trying to figure out how scale, it’s almost impossible for them to certify their products and reprint their labeling due to budget. Some products, such as dried fruits or nuts, could never have gluten and it would be an unreasonable demand that they certify every snack. We think we’ve struck a great balance, but we’re always eager to hear from you. Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!