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Gluten 101: What is it?

Were you devastated by news that you must give up gluten aka all of the breads, pastas and pastries that you had been enjoying your entire life? You’re not alone! Our friend and health coach, Jennifer Fugo, shares with us her story, along with a breakdown of what gluten is and how to spot it.   
Gluten 101: What is it?

I remember the moment that I received word that gluten and I needed to ‘break up.’   It had been a wonderful love affair of pasta, pastries and bread for most of my life growing up in an Italian family.  This news was pretty devastating for me.  At the time, it honestly felt like a curse.  I even joked that somebody turned the ‘evil eye’ on me… a lover of all things glutenous.  Though I felt like sulking, the first step to actually addressing my situation was to educate myself on gluten and what I’d need to generally avoid.
What’s gluten anyway?
Gluten is a spongy protein that naturally occurs in certain grains.  You could probably think of it as ‘nature’s glue.’  It literally helps things stick together.  The best example- gluten gives bread and other baked goods their beloved squooshiness.  It binds together ingredients and can also act as a thickener.  So, can you see why it is used in so much processed food?  ‘Nature’s glue’ certainly gets around!
From here, you’ve got to learn the language of gluten in order to know where its found.  Gluten is a common ingredient in many products on the market to make them ‘better’ in a certain way that’s more appealing to customers.  Though I could point you to long lists that are, frankly, overwhelming with glutenous ingredient names, its best to go one step at a time.
Keep it Simple
First comes first.  Understand the basics and keep the process simple.  It will help you to remember what you need to avoid and you can slowly grow the list upon this foundation.  To help you, I’ve got a great acronym that my nutritionist Samantha Grant shared with me.
B – barley
R – rye
O – oats which are contaminated and NOT marked gluten-free
W – wheat (all varieties are included)
S – spelt
Though this list is a general rule of thumb, it can be tremendously helpful if you’ve no clue where gluten comes from.  Plus, the list makes it easy to explain to others who don’t understand where to find gluten.  Remember, the simplest explanation can sometimes be the best one.
Jennifer Fugo, certified Health Coach
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