Many people are making the choice to cut gluten from their diets, but it can be a surprisingly difficult thing to do. Some sources of gluten are obvious, like bread, pizza, and pasta. But this substance can also be hiding in some pretty unexpected places. For example, did you know there can be gluten in protein powder, processed foods, beer, sauces, food colorings, salad dressings, and many common food additives?
Gluten: What You Should Know
Before you can decide if you should cut gluten from your diet or begin developing an effective strategy to avoid it, you need to know what gluten is, why it might be wise to avoid it, and what types of food are likely to contain it.
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is the name for a family of proteins found in certain grains, including wheat, barley, rye, and all of their species and hybrids. When mixed with water, gluten develops a sticky, glue-like consistency that makes dough elastic, helps food hold a shape, and delivers a satisfyingly chewy texture.
Why Would Someone Avoid Gluten?
Why would you choose to avoid gluten? While many people can tolerate gluten without trouble, it can make some people feel ill. In fact, individuals with certain health conditions will see tremendous benefits if they eliminate gluten from their diets. There are actually several health concerns that can result in gluten intolerance, including all of the following:
- Celiac Disease: An autoimmune disorder, celiac disease is the most severe form of gluten intolerance. When someone with this condition consumes gluten, the immune system goes on the attack, which can damage the gut wall and trigger symptoms like gastrointestinal discomfort, diarrhea, constipation, headache, anemia, skin rashes, depression, and fatigue.
- Wheat Allergies: In some cases, an allergic reaction to wheat is the real reason why consuming gluten causes gastrointestinal difficulties, headache, fatigue, and other unpleasantness.
- Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: Some people react badly to gluten even though they don’t suffer from celiac disease or food allergies. While the exact cause is unclear, people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity who consume gluten typically experience discomfort in the form of stomach pain, diarrhea, bloating, tiredness, and depression.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome: People with IBS may fare better if they make an effort to eliminate gluten from their diets. This may be because avoiding gluten also helps IBS sufferers to avoid other irritating agents.
Is Eliminating Gluten Safe?
Are there any health risks associated with eliminating gluten from your diet? Generally, going gluten-free is safe as long as you make healthy food choices. Anyone with concerns about cutting out gluten should speak with their doctor or nutritionist before making the switch.
Where Is Gluten Found?
The main sources of gluten are wheat, barley, rye, and all of their species and hybrids, but the risk of cross-contamination makes oats and other non-gluten grains a cause for concern. Basically, gluten will likely be found in breads, baked goods, cereals, pastas, soups, sauces, salad dressings, malt, brewer’s yeast, and processed foods. It is also in several food additives, including seasonings, flavors, nondairy creamers, artificial colors, modified food starches, textured vegetable proteins, dextrin, and various sweeteners.
Gluten in Protein Powder
There are many reasons why someone might want to use protein powder. After all, increasing your consumption of protein can help you lose weight, build muscle, improve your athleticism, and simply feel healthier, and protein powder is an incredibly convenient way to get more protein.
Protein powder can be used to make protein shakes or mixed into other beverages for those times when you’re in a hurry or on the go. It can also be added to many recipes to increase the amount of protein available in the resulting food. Yes, gluten is a form of protein, but not all proteins contain gluten. If you’re determined to ditch gluten, you don’t have to forego protein powders. Some products may contain gluten, but others are gluten-free. Here’s what you need to know about gluten in protein powder.
How Can You Tell?
While plants can be a good source of protein, and many are gluten-free, there is a greater risk of cross-contamination because of field rotations and the use of shared equipment to grow and harvest crops. As a result, anyone determined to avoid gluten should be wary of protein powders from plant sources.
Meat and animal products are naturally gluten-free, so protein powders from these sources may be a safer bet. If you want to avoid gluten in protein powder, powders made from chicken, whey, beef, pork, and fish are all options worth considering. However, even protein powders based on gluten-free sources can still contain traces of gluten if they use additives, food colorings, flavorings, or sweeteners that contain gluten. The only way to really tell if a protein powder contains gluten is to read the label.
Tips for Choosing a Gluten-Free Protein Powder
If you’re avoiding gluten and want to use a protein powder, the product’s label is likely to be your best friend. When choosing a gluten-free protein powder, look for the following:
- Look for “gluten-free” on the product label. If a product is gluten-free, most manufacturers will make it very clear on the label. If there’s no mention of it, there may be gluten lurking in the ingredient list.
- Check for phrases like “may contain wheat” or “made on shared equipment with wheat ingredients.” Products with these warnings may contain gluten, so look elsewhere.
- Scan the ingredient list for items that indicate gluten is present. Be wary of foods that are prone to cross-contamination.
- Select a protein powder made from animal products. Opting for protein derived from chicken, whey, beef, or other animal products may reduce the likelihood that the protein source has been contaminated by traces of gluten.
- Choose a quality protein powder that does not contain unnecessary additives. This limits the likelihood that you will accidentally overlook a hidden source of gluten.
Going gluten-free doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on the many advantages offered by protein powders. Avoiding gluten in protein powder simply requires selecting a high-quality powder made from a gluten-free source, like chicken, and reviewing the label.
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