The Food Contaminant That Sickens Millions Every Day
Suppose I told you about a food ingredient that nobody could absorb, made millions sick, was associated with schizophrenia and other mental disorders, caused infertility in thousands and increased the chances of death by 400 percent in the truly sensitive. You’d probably say: Get it out of the food supply, quick! Instead, we’ve taken that anti-nutrient, called gluten, and put it into almost all of the processed foods sitting on supermarket shelves.
If you’re trying to be gluten-free in a gluten-filled world, you realize how much of this worthless substance Americans consume each day. Bread, pizza, crackers, cookies, candy, soups and pasta are all rich in gluten, a group of indigestible proteins primarily found in wheat, barley and rye.
But aside from the foods that are intentionally made from gluten-containing ingredients, gluten contaminates virtually every processed food made in the world. Even when researchers analyze foods that seem to have no ingredient that should contain gluten, they find small amounts of it present.
Gluten is everywhere.
Researchers estimate that 3 million people in the U.S. have celiac disease, the autoimmune reaction to gluten that leads to destruction of the digestive tract. Another 20 million people are believed to be gluten-sensitive, suffering all kinds of gluten-related maladies even though they don’t seem to experience intestinal damage. About 95 percent of gluten’s victims don’t know that their discomforts are linked to gluten. They can be experiencing mysterious headaches, stomachaches, memory loss, muscle coordination difficulties, vitiligo (lightened patches of skin without pigment), irritable bowel syndrome and a host of other problems all because of eating foods that contain gluten. And most never suspect the true source of their suffering.
If you’re trying to eat gluten-free, carefully perusing food package labels and cooking with gluten-free ingredients, you can still be unknowingly consuming significant amounts of gluten.
Some of the most commonly overlooked sources of gluten may include:
- Gluten in restaurant food. When you eat out, there’s a good chance your food is cross-contaminated with gluten. Restaurant staff may not be very careful about handling food that is supposed to be gluten free. For example, if bread is sliced on a cutting board that is then used to chop your vegetables or salad ingredients, gluten will almost certainly be in your food.
- Your family spreads gluten in your kitchen. If you share your kitchen with people not on a gluten-free diet, every time they prepare a meal with bread, pasta, pizza, cookies, crackers, flour, etc., they may leave behind crumbs that contain gluten. Especially problematic: When your kitchen compatriots eat butter or nut butter, the knives and spoons they use may have bread crumbs clinging to them. Those crumbs can end up in your food. Carefully scrub counters, cookie sheets and other surfaces to clear them of gluten contaminants.
- Medications may contain gluten.Prescription and over-the-counter medications may be sources of gluten and this fact may not be on the medication label. Contact pharmaceutical manufacturers or your pharmacist to make sure your medicines are gluten-free.
- Dietary supplements may contain gluten.Check the labels of your vitamin, mineral and herb supplements to be sure they don’t contain gluten.
- Beer is rich in gluten from barley.If you choose to drink beer, chose a variety that is certified gluten-free. Avoid beers that are so-called “low-gluten” since research shows that these actually may be high in gluten.
- Wash your hands after handling foods with gluten. If you prepare gluten-containing food for family members or friends, wash your hands after cooking those foods. Gluten cannot penetrate the skin, but you may cross contaminate your own food if you don’t take precautions.
- Check the ingredients of foods you habitually consume.Food manufacturers periodically may change the ingredients in processed foods. A food you safely ate before may now contain gluten.
- Foods purchased from bulk containers at the supermarket or health food store may be contaminated with gluten. Bulk containers with gluten-free foods may have previously held wheat flour. If the bin has not been thoroughly cleansed, gluten can cross contaminate your purchase.
It doesn’t take much gluten to cause health problems in those who are highly susceptible. Research shows that many people who have celiac or are gluten-sensitive may experience an autoimmune reaction if they consume about a sixth of a slice of bread. Some people are so sensitive that a few bread crumbs can make them sick. Staying gluten-free requires constant diligence.