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Gluten sensitivity is difficult to deal with, but its more serious cousin, celiac disease, can be life threatening. In both cases, exposure to gluten causes an allergic reaction in the intestines. Symptoms of both gluten sensitivity and celiac disease range from mild discomfort, such as gastrointestinal distress, through to neurological issues such as memory loss and depression, a compromised immune system and problems conceiving or carrying a pregnancy to term. When you have sensitivity to gluten, your symptoms will generally be of the milder type. With celiac disease, your body`s autoimmune response causes damage to your intestines, which makes it impossible for you to absorb necessary nutrients. In fact, celiac disease is identified by an intestinal biopsy showing this damage to the intestines.

Gluten is a protein composite occurring in the mature seeds of wheat, barley and rye. It is what gives dough its elasticity, helps it to rise and creates bread`s distinctive chewy texture. Gluten is found in many different types of foods including breads, pasta, salad dressing, gravy, soy sauce, seasoned rice, vegetables in sauce and self-basting poultry. It is also found in cosmetics, hair products and skin care products, so it is crucial to read labels and be able to identify the other names that gluten goes by, including bulgur, durum flour, farina, graham flour, kamut, semolina and spelt.

Avoiding gluten if you have a mild sensitivity is not that difficult, but for those with celiac disease, it can be a challenge. Fortunately, there are steps you can take both at home and when dining out to decrease your risk of exposure.

When at home, store products containing gluten below gluten-free products to avoid the chance of crumbs, spills or leaks contaminating your gluten-free products. Keep a separate cutting board and toaster for gluten-free breads and a separate sifter for gluten-free flours if you bake. Never dip a knife or spoon back into a container of peanut butter, jelly, mayonnaise, mustard, sour cream or any other food, condiment or sauce after it has come into contact with gluten-containing bread or pasta. Do not re-use the oil from frying breaded foods when preparing gluten-free fried foods. Wash all pots, pans and utensils, including your barbecue grill, that come in contact with gluten thoroughly in hot, soapy water after each use if you can not afford to keep and label a second set.

It`s harder to stay gluten-free when dining out, but the main thing you can do to protect yourself or a loved one is to ask questions. Make your condition known to your waiter. Be clear about the possible consequences, because some people don`t take food related conditions as seriously as they should, especially if they have no personal experience of them. Educate yourself as to what foods are likely to contain gluten, especially the unexpected ones such as soy sauce and salad dressings. Ask your server to make sure that your meal is not fried in oil or cooked on a flat-top or in a pan that is also used for any fried or breaded foods. Avoid pizza parlors if possible because flour particles stay in the air for a while after the flour is used, making it almost impossible to avoid cross-contamination with other foods.

Knowledgeable gluten-aware websites such as recommend that you also check to make sure that CS catering equipment used by companies providing food and beverages for the personal and professional functions in your life practice appropriate gluten hygiene.

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