What is gluten and what does it mean to be gluten intolerant?

You see the term gluten-free used everywhere on food packaging these days, but what exactly is gluten and what does it mean to be gluten intolerant? Gluten is a protein that can be found in wheat, rye, malt, barley, triticale and oats. Gluten is a sticky protein that binds the dough in breads and baked goods. Often wheat and gluten are thought to be the same thing and the terms are used interchangeably, however this is actually incorrect. Wheat is a grain, whereas gluten is a protein found in various grains, so you can be allergic only to wheat and still enjoy other types of grains, but if you are allergic to gluten you generally cannot.

Having an adverse reaction to gluten can be referred to as gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. For these people, consuming even the smallest amount of gluten can have very unpleasant consequences. Symptoms like bloating, excessive wind, abdominal pain and diarrhoea are common, as well as more general ailments like tiredness, body aches and pains and poor concentration. Given these relatively generic symptoms, being diagnosed can often be difficult and consequently frustrating. However it is very important to see your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. So what causes these reactions? People who suffer from gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity have a physical condition in their gut whereby undigested gluten proteins in the intestines are identified by the body as being harmful, causing a reaction that irritates the gut and results in these symptoms that vary in severity depending on the individual.

The most extreme case of reaction to gluten is a very serious condition called Coeliac disease, (pronounced see-lee-ak) an auto-immune condition where gluten actually damages the small intestine which is the part of the digestive system that absorbs nutrients. If left untreated, Coeliac disease can lead to other diseases. One in 70 Australians is currently living with Coeliac disease. People are born with a particular genetic make-up that predisposes them to coeliac disease, however many people with the gene never actually get the condition. Avoiding foods that contain gluten is the only treatment.

Symptoms of Coeliac disease can include:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fatigue
  • Anaemia
  • Wind
  • Constipation
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Weight loss and also weight gain

The good news is that for some, if you remove gluten from the diet the gut eventually heals itself over a period of time and the majority of symptoms stop. In these cases, it is sometimes possible to reintroduce some gluten into the diet. For others who have a genetic predisposition to gluten and suffer severe reactions, their bodies may never be able to process gluten.

Whilst there are obvious restrictions, there is still a wide array of foods to be enjoyed that do not contain gluten. Be sure to always read the label if buying processed or packaged food and if dining out at restaurants and you’re not sure, ask questions.

Some examples of gluten-free food:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Meat, fish, chicken, bacon
  • Milk, fresh cream, block cheese
  • Cereal and baking products made from corn flour, soya flour, lentil flour or rice
  • Gluten free pasta, rice noodles, 100% buckwheat noodles
  • Legumes, beans
  • Wine, spirits, tea and coffee

We’re pleased to say that all of The Happy Snack Company Chic Pea and Fav-va Bean products are 100% guaranteed gluten free so can be enjoyed with confidence by those who suffer with gluten intolerances.