Unveiling the Mystery Behind Gluten-Free

by Jen Wanous

Is it just me or has every other person you’ve met lately gone gluten-free? Tons of people seem to be giving up bread and pasta and it’s not just because they want to go cut out the carbs. Their lives appear to be sincerely changed by this dietary modification. Improved digestion and more energy are just some of the many benefits cited by hoards of gluten-free converts. But before we all hop on board the gluten-free train, let’s back up for a second to cover some of the basics.

What is gluten?  Gluten is the common name for the proteins found in ALL forms of wheat. Gluten brings structure, elasticity and a chewy texture to products. This includes  wheat, spelt, rye and barley.

What is Celiac Disease?  CD is an autoimmune disease that attacks normal tissues when gluten is eaten. The angry immune system response is to attack the tiny finger-like villi that line your small intestine, which are responsible for nutrition absorption. When villi get stomped out by a gluten-intolerant immune system, the body loses its ability to absorb critical nutrients.

How do you know if you should get tested for CD? If you are having adverse gastrointestinal symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating and/or low energy, then it’s time to ask your doctor to do a blood test for Celiac Disease. (You have to be eating gluten for four weeks prior to the test for the results to be accurate.)

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, one in 133 people have Celiac Disease and 97% do not know it.

What is Gluten Sensitivity or Gluten Intolerance?  It is the less severe sister to CD. It means that your body has adverse reactions when gluten is introduced, more like a food allergy. It is not as destructive as CD because there is no immune system attack on your intestine wall. Symptoms pass as the gluten leaves the digestive system.

What to do if you suspect you are Gluten Sensitive or Intolerant?   Read up on where gluten lurks and take out all forms of gluten in your diet for two to four weeks. Carefully note how you feel. If you see improvements, then you best get on board the Gluten Free train!

Obviously, when planning a gluten-free diet, you have to be vigilant with all the processed products you eat. Just because something says it is “wheat free” doesn’t always mean that it is gluten-free because it might have spelt, rye or barley. Things can get tricky because gluten pops up in unexpected products such as soy sauce, ice cream, ketchup, supplements and beer, just to name a few. However, if you keep things simple and plan ahead, these lifestyle and diet modifications will not seem quite so daunting. Below is a recipe I made in school for a chocolate brownie. Gooey and rich, you and your friends will want more of this treat.

Click here for a link to the Celiac Foundation, it has a ton of resources.

Here is a link to the Gluten Free Girl, for some great recipes.

Gluten-Free Goodness Brownies Topped with Sea Salt

Makes 12+ servings


3 cups walnuts

Hearty pinch of salt

24 dates, pitted and chopped

2/3 cup unsweetened cacao powder

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

6 tablespoons agave or maple syrup

Coarse sea salt for topping


1. In a food processor add the salt and walnuts until finely ground. Add the dates, cacao powder, vanilla and syrup until well combine (about 1 min).

2. Press mixture into a pan and refrigerate until chilled. Top each piece with a pinch of course sea salt. Cover with plastic wrap to store.

This recipe is adapted from Raw Food Made Easy by Jenny Cornbleet.

3 Comments to “Unveiling the Mystery Behind Gluten-Free”

  1. Thank you for the explanation in layman terms. The article was very helpful and the brownies sound extra yummy.

  2. Always salt, all the time!

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