When the proteins gliadin and glutenin join they form gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, triticale, spelt and other grains from the triticeae grass family. For people with celiac disease or other forms of gluten intolerance, consuming gluten in any form can cause intestinal damage. The gluten damages the villi, reducing the body's ability to absorb nutrients from any food consumed, potentially causing complications such as osteoporosis, anemia and certain types of cancer, as noted by the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Eating a gluten-free diet involves avoiding wheat, barley, rye and, for some patients, oats.
Wheat is the most ubiquitous of the gluten-containing grains, present in a wide variety of processed foods, as well as grain products. Most bread, such as commercial white and wheat breads, donuts, dinner rolls, breakfast treats, most breakfast bars and many cereals are made from wheat. Nearly all pastas in mainstream grocery stores are made from wheat, with the exception of rice noodles found in Asian sections of some grocery stores. Food manufacturers commonly use wheat gluten as a thickener in foods such as ketchup, barbecue sauce, yogurt and many frozen food meals. Spelt is a form of wheat, and therefore any item containing spelt is not gluten-free. Products labeled "wheat free" are not automatically gluten-free nor are they safe for the gluten-free diet, as they may still contain barley, wheat, rye, spelt or triticale.
Barley, like wheat, rye, spelt and triticale, is one of the major gluten-containing foods that people on a gluten-free diet need to avoid completely. While avoiding the simple grain is easy, barley-containing additives are common in processed foods. For instance, many breakfast cereals contain barley malt as a flavoring, and some manufacturers use barley as a coloring additive.
Rye, along with spelt and triticale, is one of the least common gluten-containing foods in the standard American diet, and is easier to avoid than wheat, barley, or even oats. People following a gluten-free diet, though, must note that rye is often used in fermented alcohol for alcoholic beverages or for industrial-use alcohol.
Oats are not part of the Triticeae grass tribe, yet some celiac patients cannot tolerate eating oats. A 2004 report in "PLoS Med" reveals that the same intestinal damage caused by the gluten protein occurs in as many as two of five patients who consume gluten-free oats. This research throws into question a previous theory that celiac patients cannot tolerate oats because most oats are cross-contaminated with wheat when wheat grows in the same fields as oats, thus making its way into the manufacturing process. Some manufacturers produce gluten-free oats for people on a gluten-free diet. These oats have been grown and manufactured in such a way as to to prevent cross-contamination with wheat products.
- PLoS Med; Oats Intolerance in Celiac Disease
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Celiac Disease
- National Institutes of Health: Celiac Awareness Campaign
- Archives of Internal Medicine; Prevalence of Celiac Disease in At-risk and Not-at-risk Groups in the United States: a Large Multicenter Study
- Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.