This is the first post in an ongoing series about Gluten Free cooking and a Gluten Free lifestyle.Before talking about cooking Gluten Free food, you must know what Gluten is. Gluten is a protein that exists mainly in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten is very common in a standard American diet, but nearly 3.5 million people in the United States (1% of the population) have a specific allergy to Gluten. The allergy is called Celiac disease. I will dedicate a post later in this series to Celiac disease. Gluten is the component that helps make bread elastic, providing it with that chewy texture it has when eaten. Furthermore, gluten keeps the gases that are released during fermentation in the dough, so the bread is able to rise before it is baked.Now that you know what Gluten is, what does it mean to be Gluten Free? A Gluten Free diet is one that is free of wheat-based foods and gluten as a food additive. Gluten is often used as a food additive in the form of a flavoring, stabilizing, or thickening agent. Few people know that Gluten is used as a stabilizing agent or thickener in most ice cream and ketchup. One of the most difficult sources of Gluten to avoid is flour.While wheat, rye and barley are very common grains and starches in cooking, many grains and starches do not contain gluten. Among the most common Gluten Free grains and starches are corn, potatoes, and rice. Soybeans and buckwheat are also common Gluten Free options.Other than necessity due to Celiac Disease, gluten free diets are often used by people to achieve other health benefits. The health benefits of a gluten free diet can be extensive. I will dedicate an entire post to the health benefits of a gluten free diet, but know that nutritionists have connected a gluten free diet to the lessening of some of today's most common ailments.As you walk through the grocery store, you may notice some "gluten free" labels. This label does not apply to foods that are made with ingredients that do not naturally contain gluten. Gluten can be removed from wheat, but it cannot be fully removed. Many foods labeled at grocery stores with "gluten free" contain a small percentage of gluten.Now you know what Gluten Free means. This post has been just the basics, and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask. In upcoming posts I will explore the ideas in this post further and show you some interesting sides of a gluten free lifestyle.What are you questions about Gluten Free? I would love to answer anything you are curious about.