What to Look Out For With Barley Grass and Gluten-Free Diet
Dietary habits are different for most people, with several choosing to diverge from the preferences of their friends and family to pursue a healthier alternative. Some dietary habits are more specialized than others and are implemented due to incompatibilities between someone's biology and commonly consumed foods. The simplest version of this problem is a food allergy, which can affect anyone and pertain to almost any food.
For example, some people are allergic to peanuts, while others can eat them and their byproducts with impunity. Most people recognize traditional food allergies and accept them without much trouble, but some people claim to be sensitive to otherwise harmless substances. One allergy that faced controversy was gluten allergy, which was initially considered ridiculous by the general public. Nevertheless, gluten intolerance is now accepted as a real allergy.
Avoiding gluten is incredibly difficult since almost every food has a trace of gluten, though some are naturally gluten-free. Even plants can have natural concentrations of gluten, which makes keeping it out of your diet a major challenge. One particular plant is often used to make food that poses a potential risk to people with gluten intolerances.
Barley is a common ingredient in several foods and certain drinks, and one would assume that it is gluten-free since it comes directly from nature. Unfortunately, it is not that simple, and you might have to look closely at barley products before consuming them.
What is Barley?
Hordeum vulgare, better known as barley to the average person, is a member of the grass family and is one of the major cereal grains. Despite the name, cereal grains are not exclusively used to make cereal but to create edible substances that require grain. Barley, in particular, is used to make bread, stew, soup, and certain health products. Barley remains one of the most versatile and common grains, but most are unaware of its history.
Barley was one of the first domesticated grains in the Fertile Crescent. The Crescent is a water-rich area connected to the Nile River that flows through Western Asia and northeastern Africa. While the exact timing of when barley was domesticated and introduced to human society is unknown, the earliest traces date back to 23,000 BCE, but the first example of cultivars that require human intervention were identified in Mesopotamia. The region in question is now modern-day Iraq, but these modified cultivars were created between 9,000 and 7,000 BCE.
Despite tens of thousands of years separating us from the earliest barley cultivation, it has spread from its original home and is now available worldwide. In the United States, barley grains are used in several healthy foods and are marketed as organic. Compared to the processed white bread most people consume, barley-based products generally live up to the name.
Unfortunately, some people must avoid the substance due to dietary restrictions or health issues that make it dangerous to consume. The reason is that some people cannot tolerate gluten or simply want to avoid it due to lifestyle choices. The question is: Does barley have gluten?
What is Gluten?
Before we can broach whether H. vulgare has gluten, it is worth understanding what gluten is and why it can harm people. Despite its close association with bread and starches, gluten is actually a protein. Specifically, gluten is a binding protein found in wheat plants and grains. Gluten is a natural component of these plants and grains but has been cultivated to create a more concentrated version. This enhanced gluten is added to food and other products as a binding agent to maintain texture and flavor.
This means foods with gluten, even the unhealthy options, have a small amount of protein. Unfortunately, gluten is not the same type of protein that we get from consuming meat or legumes and does not have the same effect. As a binding agent, gluten is weaker than meat protein but provides a small amount of energy for our bodies and soluble fiber.
The human body uses protease enzymes to break down proteins and convert them to energy. For the most part, protease is highly effective at what it does and can break down almost any protein easily. Unfortunately, there are certain proteins that protease cannot break down properly, and traces of those proteins are left to gestate in our bodies.
Gluten is one of the main proteins that protease cannot break down, and the undigested remnants spread to our digestive tract. The average person can handle undigested gluten without complications and is usually unaware that the protein was not broken down properly. The problem is that some people have an autoimmune response to gluten, which causes unpleasant symptoms.
The autoimmune response to gluten was officially diagnosed as celiac disease and is a problematic condition that can damage the small intestine if left unchecked. However, the symptoms of celiac disease can manifest in people who do not have the condition. An undigested protein can strain a sensitive stomach and cause similar symptoms even though celiac disease is absent. The major symptoms include:
- Skin Rashes
While gluten is connected to these symptoms, it is not the only possible culprit and might be caused by poorly digested carbohydrates. Considering most foods with gluten have carbohydrates, it is not uncommon for one to be confused with the other. The carbohydrates responsible for this reaction are FODMAPS, and they have a habit of fermenting in your stomach.
The fermentation process causes a buildup that generates symptoms similar, if not identical, to celiac disease symptoms. This confusion has contributed to the skepticism surrounding gluten's role in celiac disease. Unfortunately, studies have confirmed that gluten is a viable cause of the body's autoimmune response and must be taken seriously.
Is There Gluten in Barley?
The question of whether barley contains gluten is easily answered since barley is one of the primary sources of gluten. Barley is often cultivated to produce the concentrated gluten used to manufacture bread and soup. Barley grass, like most plants, reproduces by producing seeds that are scattered and allowed to grow into new plants.
These seeds are partially responsible for the gluten in barley and are the main thing to look out for when trying to consume barley while on a gluten-free diet. Harvesting barley plants before they begin developing seeds makes adding barley to your meal possible if you have celiac disease or are choosing to avoid gluten.
As a result, one might assume it is as simple as looking for barley that is marked as seedless at your local grocery store. Unfortunately, that is not an option since there are no official markings for seedless barley. In fact, harvesting barley grass before it develops seeds is usually not considered by the farms that produce it. Therefore, there is no reliable way to find completely gluten-free barley.
You might find a farmer who happens to harvest their crop before the grass develops seeds, but they are likely not a reliable long-term source. Even if the grass is cultivated before the seeds grow, barley still retains a natural concentration of gluten, and it is impossible to consume without introducing gluten to your body.
The same principle applies to wheat and rye, but barley's gluten content was believed to be avoidable for a brief time. Nevertheless, you should avoid barley completely if you are trying to abide by a gluten-free diet. If you are trying to find a substitute for barley, several options will provide similar nutrition, texture, and taste without adding any gluten to your diet.
That said, the biggest problem is that some foods at your local supermarket have barley in them but do not list it as "barley" on the ingredients label. Whenever you are purchasing something and want to ensure barley is not one of the ingredients, look for any of the following terms:
- Malted Barley Flour
- Barley Flour
- Barley Flavoring
- Barley Enzymes
- Malt Extract
- Malt Flavoring
- Maltose (malt sugar)
- Malt Syrup
- Caramel Coloring (This is occasionally made from barley malt.)
You might be wondering what malt has to do with barley. Malt is literally a cereal grain that has been germinated in water to create a distinct flavor. Malt makes alcohol, milk, vinegar, and candies like Whoppers or Maltesers. Therefore, you should also avoid any malt products since they almost always have gluten unless the malt was specifically manufactured gluten-free.
Treating Celiac Symptoms
If you are reading this article, you probably have not consumed any barley yet and were hoping to learn in advance whether you could eat it. That said, some of you might have accidentally consumed barley without knowing it has gluten and might already be feeling the symptoms of celiac disease. As a result, you might want to know how to treat the symptoms to reduce the impact or preemptively protect yourself.
Unfortunately, the nature of celiac disease means there is no cure or medication to suppress the effects. Doctors prescribe a lifelong restriction on foods or ingredients containing gluten since there is no other way to avoid the condition. That said, certain symptoms can be treated even if the underlying condition remains. If you accidentally consumed gluten and triggered your celiac disease, you likely have begun experiencing gastrointestinal distress like bloating or diarrhea.
While these symptoms do not endanger your life, they are extremely unpleasant and can make life difficult. Suppressing these symptoms is the focus of several medications and compounds regularly marketed in the health industry. However, one overlooked resource that can help you naturally reduce gastrointestinal distress is probiotics.
Probiotics are a type of microorganism that is naturally found in several dairy products and plants. You have likely heard of them at some point, considering they have grown more popular recently. What might surprise you is that probiotic organisms were initially discovered in 1905 due to a casual observation that peasants eating yogurt were living longer.
Probiotics have been linked to several gastrointestinal benefits that have improved the quality of life for people worldwide. One of the main functions of these organisms is reinforcing the natural bacteria that support our gastrointestinal health. What might surprise you further is that certain probiotic strains have been linked to reduced symptoms of celiac disease.
Remembering probiotics will not suppress the symptoms completely but can reduce the severity and intensity of certain celiac disease symptoms is critical. Specifically, probiotics have been scientifically linked to reduced diarrhea following a celiac flare-up. This effect can seriously improve the quality of life for individuals with celiac disease and make it possible to recover faster.
Regularly consuming probiotics can proactively reinforce your gastrointestinal tract against diarrhea and bloating. Unfortunately, they will not eliminate the symptoms should you accidentally consume gluten. Regardless, acquiring a probiotic supplement to protect against severe celiac symptoms might be in your best interest.
Finding the Right Blend
Gluten has become something of a menace to certain demographics who are sensitive to the protein's effects on their bodies. Our digestive system is equipped to handle several things, but gluten is not one of them. If you are one of the few who suffer from celiac disease, avoiding gluten is essential, and barley could be one of the most significant threats to your health. Fortunately, reducing the impact of certain symptoms is possible with the right resources, but you should not rely on such measures to immunize you from the condition. Probiotics are one of the best resources for protecting your gastrointestinal health, but the tricky part is finding a reliable supplement.
We at Teami have always believed that natural solutions are among the best, which is why we have dedicated ourselves to creating a catalog of natural compounds. We offer several products that can enhance health and beauty, but we also know that dealing with chronic conditions like celiac disease is challenging. To that end, we recommend our Gut Love Probiotic + Prebiotic Powder, which contains 7 different strains of beneficial probiotic organisms. We encourage you to visit our website and try our product for yourself. After all, finding the right blend is a Teami effort.
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