Have you noticed food labels in our grocery stores over the last 10 years? They have changed significantly and sometimes read like a science textbook with nutrition jargon.


Have you noticed food labels in our grocery stores over the last 10 years? They have changed significantly and sometimes read like a science textbook with nutrition jargon.



One of the newer things seen on foods is "gluten free." Many people are promoting these foods as a healthful way to eat.



So what is the big deal about gluten?



Dr. Amy Simonne and others at the University of Florida have developed a three-part series about gluten that provides straightforward, research-based facts.



As additional research is conducted, some of us may need a broader understanding of the issues surrounding these topics. We want to be wise consumers and avoid sway from marketing strategies.



So what is gluten?



Gluten is a mixture of proteins, gliadins and glutenins found primarily in wheat, rye or barley. It can trigger digestive, immune or autoimmune system difficulties for people with identified food allergies, food intolerances or food sensitivities. Before looking specifically at gluten, it is important to understand the differences between a food allergy, food intolerance and food sensitivity.



The facts



•Food sensitivity is a catchall term for food allergies and intolerances.



•A food allergy is the immune system reacting to a specific protein. A reaction usually occurs within minutes, but could be hours later. Cow's milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, shellfish, tree nuts, soy or wheat trigger most food allergies.



•Food intolerance is more common than a true food allergy. It does not involve the immune system. Food intolerance is a metabolism problem in which the body cannot digest the food because of an enzyme deficiency.



Gluten mostly affects those with Celiac disease and wheat allergies. Celiac disease, the condition most often associated with gluten, is an inherited disease. Others may have wheat allergies or a gluten intolerance or sensitivity.



If you don't have specific gluten issues, you may want to know if you would be healthier without gluten. Limited research has shown improvements initially, but there are concerns about getting adequate nutrition on a gluten-free diet.



Knowing how to read a food label is crucial to finding and evaluating gluten-free foods. Look at the list of ingredients for wheat, rye, barley or a hybrid of these grains. The FDA proposed using the classification "gluten free" voluntarily in 2007.



Understanding your health issue and how it relates to reading a food label is very important.



Brenda Smith is with the Okaloosa County Extension office in Crestview.