What is Gluten? Everything You Need to Know About

what is gluten

Gluten is a much-debated topic nowadays. Most researchers have suggested that it is safe to consume except for those having celiac disease. But some researchers claim that it is not suitable for everyone. Let’s have a look at what is gluten and is it safe to consume or not?

What is gluten?

Gluten-free diets are getting popular, and it has increased the revenue of gluten-free products industries tremendously. Because of growing understanding and the health advantages, most individuals are replacing gluten-containing items in their regular diets.

It is a protein present in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. Among these grains, wheat is by far the most common and highly consumed food.

When gluten is mixed with water, the protein in grains forms a sticky texture. It makes the bread and pastries soft and gives them a chewy and elastic texture. This is the reason gluten-based flours are extensively used for bread and pastry making.

Which foods have gluten?

Gluten is used as a thickening agent in different recipes. As a result, it might be difficult to determine if a food contains gluten or not. Similarly, during manufacturing processes, the same machinery and equipment are used for the preparation of packaged or processed foods. So it may contaminate the non-gluten products also.

If you are following a gluten-free diet, then make sure to read the label to know about its exact content in a product. 

From our breakfast to dinner recipes, it is extensively found in different food products like:

Grains

The main source is grains like wheat, barley, rye, spelt, semolina, triticale, bulgur, farina, durum, Kamut, couscous, and matzo.

Processed or packaged foods

The following processed and packaged foods contain gluten:

  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Crackers
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Soba noodles
  • Veggies burgers
  • Cookies
  • Pastries
  • Doughs
  • Cakes
  • Cereals
  • Flavored chips
  • Salad dressings
  • Other foods and drinks include beer, malt vinegar, soy sauce, barley malt, spice blends, broths, and a few types of processed meats.

Oats and gluten

Oats are controversial regarding their gluten content. During the processing of oats in factories, wheat and oats are processed with the same machinery. That leads to the contamination of oats.

You may also get the oats that are packaged and labeled gluten-free as they are processed with uncontaminated machinery. However, some health experts claim that these gluten-free oats do not exist since they include a protein called Avenin. Its structure is similar to the proteins in the gluten family.

A few studies have also suggested that Avenin can react similarly to other proteins in gluten-intolerant individuals. However, many studies have suggested that gluten-free oats do not contribute to gluten-related disorders in gluten intolerant people.

Most health experts recommend taking gluten-free oats as they are rich in fiber and are uncontaminated. However, more research is required to reach a final decision and better understand the oats and their association with gluten.

Gluten-free food labels

If you are following a gluten-free diet, it can be quite challenging for you to understand whether a product is contaminated or not.

For that, various health bodies have introduced a system of food labeling regulations. You may identify the gluten-free products by using these labels, but that doesn’t necessarily mean these foods are totally gluten-free.

In most countries, including the USA and Canada, products labeled as gluten-free make less than 20 ppm (parts per million) of the product. This limit, however, has been set at 3 ppm in several countries.

Different people react differently to these ranges. The 20 ppm threshold was set because of the studies suggesting that majority of the intolerant individuals can bear this limit.

Problems with gluten

Gluten is safe for most people, but in some cases, it may cause certain health problems in gluten-intolerant individuals.

Celiac disease

Celiac disease is a condition in which a person’s immune system attacks its gut lining and treats gluten as a foreign invader. It attacks the cells in the small intestine. Celiac disease is the worst type of gluten intolerance and affects almost 1% of the population globally.

The exact causes of intolerance are still unknown however, few studies suggest its genetic basis. The symptoms of celiac disease include headache, constipation, tiredness, depression, bloating, tiredness, and anemia. These symptoms vary from person to person.

Medical treatment for celiac disease is still under research however, the only way to overcome this problem is by following a gluten-free diet.

IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)

IBS is also a common medical condition in which a person cannot tolerate wheat and its products. It is still unclear why wheat and its products cause problems in a few people.

IBS is a chronic condition, but few people tend to manage it by adopting an exercise routine, stress management, and eating habits. Studies suggest that the best way to avoid IBS is following a gluten-free diet. 

Nonceliac gluten sensitivity

It is a condition in which people do not develop celiac disease but still are sensitive to gluten products.

Its symptoms include diarrhea, tiredness, depression, bloating, and abdominal pain. There is only limited information regarding the treatment of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The only way to avoid this is to eat a gluten-free diet.

Wheat allergy

This is also a common condition that causes digestive problems in a few individuals after eating wheat. This condition is more related to wheat rather than gluten.

Individuals with wheat allergies can consume gluten products other than wheat, such as rye and barley. These individuals can also follow a gluten-free diet.

Symptoms of gluten intolerance

People with gluten intolerance may experience a wide range of symptoms like:

  • Digestive problems like diarrhea, bloating, constipation, stomach pain, foul-smelling feces, and inflammation.
  • Neurological issues like anxiety, depression, confusion, fatigue, and lack of concentration.
  • Skin problems like inflammation, rash, and eczema.
  • Other problems include headache, unexplained weight loss, anemia, and nutrient deficiency.

Foods to avoid

If you are gluten intolerant, you must avoid the following foods:

Wheat

Barley

Rye

Spelt 

Bread

Pastries

Pasta

Cakes

Beer

Cereals

Cookies

Furthermore, there are a lot of other products. For that, you must read the food label of processed and packaged foods to know about their content.

Foods to eat on a gluten-free diet

If you are gluten intolerant you must adopt a healthy lifestyle and follow a gluten-free diet. This diet allows you to eat a variety of products like:

Fruits: all fruits are gluten-free. You can add as many fruits as you want to your daily diet. Avoid canned and sweetened processed fruits as they may contain a slight amount of gluten.

Vegetables: almost all vegetables including nuts, legumes, and tubers.

Grains: it includes oats, rice, quinoa, flax, tapioca, sorghum, arrowroot, millet, and buckwheat.

Meat: most fresh and unprocessed meat like chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, and seafood. Avoid processed meat like sausages or flavored meat combined with seasonings and sauces as they may contain slight content of it.

Oils: almost all oils, butter, and ghee. Avoid flavored or spiced oil if you are intolerant.

Dairy products: most dairy products like yogurt, milk, eggs, and cheese. Avoid processed or flavored milk and yogurt, or make sure to read the label.

Summary

There is a lot of confusion regarding what is gluten and whether it is safe to ingest or not. It is a family of proteins that are found in grains like wheat and barley.

Most people can safely consume it- however, few people with gluten intolerance must avoid gluten-containing products. If you have any doubt that you are gluten intolerant or experiencing the symptoms – you must consult your health care provider.

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