PhotoOn store shelves you now find a gluten-free version of almost every food product. The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) says the food industry has spent the last few years on that project.

Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, barley and spelt that gives dough its elasticity, helps it to rise, and keep its shape. It’s because of gluten that baked goods have their characteristic texture, strength and crumb structure.

However, in recent years doctors determined that people with celiac disease should avoid all gluten in their diets. According to the Mayo Clinic, People with celiac disease who eat foods containing gluten experience an immune reaction in their small intestines, causing damage to the inner surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients.

Celiac disease is more common that you might think. An estimated 1 in 133 people are afflicted with celiac disease, and another 18 million Americans may be gluten-intolerant. That's why the industry has put such emphasis on coming up with gluten-free alternatives.

Gluten-free challenges

There are some challenges involved, according to IFT. Taking the gluten out of baked products can reduce volume and create a dry, crumbly, grainy texture that consumers find a turn-off.

As an alternative, companies are using flour made from ancient grains like amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum, and teff, as well as brown rice, corn and tapioca starch. These formulations achieve optimal texture, flavor, appearance, and functionality in a variety of grain-based foods. Breads, tortillas, muffins, cereals, cookies, cakes, pasta, pizza, soups, and even soy sauce are now available to gluten-free consumers.

Even though you now see more gluten-free products on store shelves, there's no reason to buy them if neither you nor anyone in your family suffers from celiac disease. They won't make you healthier or help you lose weight.

No health benefits

The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says there is no benefit of a gluten-free diet for the average healthy adult. It disputes the perception that going gluten-free is an effective way to lose weight and may in fact lead to weight gain because of extra sugar and fat often added to gluten-free foods to improve taste.

A gluten-free diet usually contains more fresh produce and that usually is a healthy improvement. If someone eats more varieties of vegetables and fruits and engages in portion control of other foods, then this type of gluten-free living may elicit health benefits, experts say.

If you don't have celiac disease, gluten won't hurt you and, in fact, is a good source of fiber. If you have any questions or concerns, you should discuss them with your doctor.

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