When it comes to food everyone seems to be avoiding one type of food or food group. Dairy and Gluten are two of the most popular avoided. Cakes and desserts are now commonly offered in gluten free and dairy free and the range and variety are growing daily. But what exactly is Gluten and what does Gluten free mean?
Gluten is the name of a family of proteins found in grains like wheat, rye, spelt & barley.
There are two main gluten proteins which are called gliadin and glutenin. It is the gliadin part that causes the harmful effects.
When wheat flour is mixed with water, the gluten proteins make a sticky cross-linking network which has a glue-like consistency, hence the name Glu-ten. If you've ever made bread and held wet dough and felt it sticking to your hands then that's the gluten.
Gluten makes the dough elasticy, giving it the ability to rise during breadmaking. It also adds to the taste providing a chewy, satisfying texture.
The most severe form of gluten intolerance is called celiac disease (pronounced SE-LE-AC) which affects about 0.7-1% of the population. This is a serious disease is caused by an autoimmune reaction when the gliadin proteins enter the digestive tract.
This can lead to a degenerated gut lining, nutrient deficiencies, severe digestive issues and other serious conditions, many of which are hard to link to digestion.
There is another condition called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This involves an adverse reaction to gluten in people who do not have celiac disease
There are no accurate figures on how common it is, but estimates place it around 0.5-13% In people with gluten sensitivity, gluten may cause diarrhea, stomach pain, bloating, fatigue, depression and various other symptoms.
So being intolerant to Gluten is a serious issue. A lot of people have self diagnosed and cut it out of their diet and finding that they experience less of a bloating feeling but this is not the same as having a serious autoimmune reaction.
Luckily over the last ten years gluten free can now be found everywhere from cakes to bread, desserts and in most aisles in the supermarket making it much easier to make choices that also won't cost the earth