Gluten is a complex of two proteins, prolamines and glutenin. Gluten gives dough elasticity, allowing it to rise and hold shape. As yeast ferments sugar gluten traps carbon dioxide, giving breads and cakes their spongy texture. Gluten is naturally present in wheat, barley, rye and triticale. For many, gluten is linked one of three separate medical conditions: celiac disease, wheat allergy, and non-celiac gluten intolerance.

More than 330,000 Canadians are thought to be affected by celiac disease with approximately 110,000 diagnosed1. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the small intestine. When gluten is ingested, it causes damage to the lining of the small intestine, which can lead to a multitude of symptoms including diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, abdominal pain, chronic fatigue, weakness, malnutrition, and other gastrointestinal problems.

For those with a true wheat allergy, the immune system elicits an abnormal response to wheat proteins, resulting in acute symptoms and a potential severity similar to that of other anaphylactic food reactions. The allergic reaction involves immunoglobulin E antibodies to at least one of the following proteins found in wheat: albumin, globulin, gliadin, and/or glutenin.

Non-celiac gluten intolerance is a non-allergic, non-autoimmune reaction to gluten that can cause symptoms similar to those experienced by people with celiac disease. Symptoms range from fatigue and “foggy mind” to diarrhea, depression and joint pain.

The treatment for all gluten related illnesses, regardless of etiology, is a gluten free diet. One of the main challenges is adhering to a gluten free diet is cross-contamination and knowing what key words to look for on ingredient lists. For an extensive list of unsafe ingredients, go here. Bottom line, as with any healthy lifestyle, eat whole foods and minimize processed foods. Adopt this philosophy and you will inherently reduce your risk of gluten contamination.

‘Going gluten free’ is not just about substituting your favourite snack bar or loaf of bread with a gluten free version. ‘Going gluten free’ is about making healthy whole grain substitutions: amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, and wild rice. Why are we grain monogamists?

*A true gluten free diet would exclude most grains, since many grains contain prolamine proteins, which have been shown to cause inflammation in some people.

Prolamine Fraction of Gluten Proteins in Select Grains

Grain Prolamine % Total Protein
Wheat Gliadin 69
Rye Secalinin 30-50
Oats Avenin 16
Barley Hordein 46-52
Millet Panicin 40
Corn Zien 55
Rice Orzenin 5
Sorgum Kafirin 52


At the Ottawa Farmers’ Market there are a number of vendors that sell gluten free products, in addition to all the vendors that feature naturally gluten free, whole foods (fruits, vegetables, dairy, eggs and meat): 5 Cupcakes, Kulture Foods, Four Sisters and Propel Wellness as well as certified wheat free oats at Castor River Farm.

When shopping the market, I encourage you to ask questions about ingredients and preparation. I had a chance to talk with Maranda from Propel Wellness about how she ensures her products are free from gluten. Here is what she had to say:

“I prepare my products in my home, which is 100% gluten free. I have a serious gluten allergy myself and am very cautious about cross contamination, so our home and family are completely gluten free. I use certified wheat free oats in my granola to avoid cross contamination in processing, which is common with conventional oats. All ingredients are naturally gluten free.”

Your ability to shop for gluten free products at the market will depend on your level of sensitivity to gluten. Many of the gluten free vendors at the market adhere to a gluten free diet themselves making them very aware of the dangers of cross-contamination thereby taking the necessary precautions to ensure a safe end product.

If you have any questions about gluten free diets, stop by the Market Nutrition tent on June 2, at 10:00am-2:00pm for an interactive workshop on gluten.

1 Canadian Digestive Health Foundation.
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