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What is Gluten and Why is Gluten Free Important?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and some lesser known grains. Gluten is elastic (think of bread rising) and is the reason baked products do not turn into a pile of crumbs when sliced or handled. Some people are highly sensitive to gluten, some to the point of having a disease called celiac sprue. These individuals must avoid gluten at all costs, as it can physically harm them.

Living gluten free is not easy. The obvious sources of this grain protein are easily identified: bread, cake, pastries, pasta, crackers, and cereals are clear examples, but what about foods like caramel syrup, soda, alcohol, sauces, salad dressings or soups? Even more difficult to discern are cross contaminations, such as a hamburger cooked on a grill used to toast buns or a portion of salad that contained croutons, even if they are picked out. Eating out, vacations, parties and holiday meals all become minefields for gluten free living, especially if others are not sensitive to the issue.

Gluten is also very difficult to avoid simply because it is used in so many non-food products. Envelope glue, prescription medicines, vitamins and cosmetics all contain gluten. So does paint, all purpose glue, play dough, toothpaste, mouthwash and detergents. Even if a product is not meant to be ingested, gluten can be inhaled and some people are so sensitive that even touching a gluten product can cause a reaction.

Against seemingly overwhelming odds, it is possible to avoid gluten. As more people have sought out gluten free products, food manufacturers have responded and there are now gluten free breads, cakes, desserts, pastas, beers, sodas, salad dressings, and many other items. In general, these items are clearly labeled as manufacturers want to be able to sell to gluten avoiding customers. Tastes and textures have improved markedly, to the point where people who do not have to avoid gluten enjoy the gluten free varieties.

Before tackling the gluten free diet, let’s get to know our culprit. Gluten is a specific type of protein, but one you won’t find in meat or eggs. Instead gluten is found in wheat, rye, and barley. Going gluten free means avoiding these grains. A gluten free diet is essential for most people with gluten allergies or celiac disease, a condition which causes intestinal damage when gluten is eaten.

People on a gluten free diet need a sharp eye for labels. Some ingredient red flags are obvious, like wheat, wheat gluten, barley, or rye. But some foods have “stealth” gluten. Two terms to watch for are malt (which is made from barley) and hydrolyzed vegetable protein (it often contains wheat). And while oats may offer an alternative for those eating gluten free, they may also increase symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea.

Perhaps the most difficult step in a gluten free diet is bidding farewell to bread as you know it—that includes white, wheat, marble, and rye. Also off limits are bagels, muffins, croissants, hamburger buns, scones – you get the idea. Yes, even pizza. But don’t despair—there are alternatives. At Haggen we carry a great selection of frozen gluten free breads, muffins and scones from Udi’s and Angela’s Bakery as well as shelf stable Ener-G Tapioca or Brown Rice bread. You’ll find a dedicated gluten free section in all our Haggen Food & Pharmacy stores that have gluten free flour, baking powder and bread mixes.

Traditional breakfast cereals are another casualty for people on a gluten free diet. Cream of Wheat is obviously out, but so are many other favorites. Cheerios contain wheat starch, while Frosted Flakes use malt flavoring. Any cereal containing wheat, barley, rye, or malt must be avoided. Check Haggen’s gluten free section for cereals from Nature’s Path, Ruth’s and Perky’s for cold cereal selections that are specifically gluten free or try gluten free oats from Bob’s Red Mill.

It’s true, no matter what its shape or name, most pasta is made out of wheat. So you’ll need to avoid spaghetti, macaroni, shells, and spirals when you’re on a gluten free diet.

When you’re really craving a bowl of spaghetti, it is possible to find gluten free pasta—just think rice noodles. At Haggen we carry a great selection of rice pasta from Tinkyada. We also have many other pasta shapes and options such as quinoa pasta and even a gluten free mac & cheese from Annie’s! Quinoa, a complete protein pseudo grain, is also an excellent and increasingly popular choice for those on a gluten free diet.

Check out the ingredients label and you’ll find that most crackers have wheat as one of their main ingredients. Your mission? Find an alternative venue for your favorite cheese spreads. Mary’s Gone Cracker’s, Blue Diamond Almond or Pecan Nut Thins are great options without gluten. Buja Snack mixes, Edward and Son’s Tamari Rice Crackers or Ener-G pretzels are great options for snack’s or party mixes.

While a gluten free diet won’t contain most traditional cakes, pies, cookies, and other celebratory treats—which are loaded with wheat flour—there are still lots of ways to satisfy your sweet tooth. Haggen has sought out the best tasting treats that will keep even the most discerning taste buds on a gluten free diet happy! Look for Nana’s Cookies, Bumble Bars, Mi-Del Ginger Snaps and Pamela’s cookies in the gluten free section.

At Haggen we’re dedicated to bringing you the very best gluten free products. We have hundreds of dedicated gluten free items throughout the store. Our buyers are continually searching for the highest quality gluten free items and you will see our selection continue to grow. So next time you’re looking for gluten free meal solutions, snack food, baking ingredients or a tasty treat go to our website for a list of gluten free items and head to Haggen Food & Pharmacy.


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