What is gluten?


If you have not watched this very funny video from Jimmy Kimmel Live check it out now for a laugh. http://youtu.be/AdJFE1sp4Fw

It highlights that often we follow advice or jump "onto the bandwagon" of diets without much understanding. However, ultimately I think the gluten-free wave is not a bad thing, especially if those trying to live gluten-free are paying more attention to their diets generally and are feeling better for it!

So what is it? Gluten is composed of two different proteins: gliadin, a prolamin protein and glutenin, a gluten protein and is found in wheat and other grass grains including barley, rye and spelt. Gliadins are single chain amino acids. Gluten comes from the Latin word "glue" as it gives the elasticity to dough and often gives the final product a chewy texture.

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder to gluten where it causes serious inflammatory response and malabsorption issues. More commonly, people are gluten-intolerant which means they experience varying negative symptoms after eating foods containing it.

If you are avoiding gluten then watch out for:

  • Cereal and baking products; wheat, wheaten cornflour, semolina, couscous, wheat bran, barley, oats (contain a different protein yet similar enough to cause reaction for those sensitive)
  • Pasta and noodles
  • Bread, cakes and biscuits
  • Meat products; sausages, burgers, rissoles and other processed meats or small goods, meat pies and breadcrumbs or batter, frozen dinners
  • Malted milks and soy milks, some milk drink powders
  • Condiments; malt vinegar, some mustards, relishes, pickles, salad dressings, sauces, soy sauce, gravy and yeast extract from barley (Vegemite and Marmite)
  • Beer, stout, ale and lager
  • Tinned soups and sauce in baked beans

Gluten is not in all grains: rice, corn, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and millet are all naturally gluten-free.

The sceptics out there believe that many are over reacting to gluten and maybe in cases it isn't specifically the gluten. Gluten is found in foods that are processed; breads, pastas, biscuits, cakes, ready made sauces. In my opinion, when we eat less processed foods we feel better. Period.

For some it might be only the breads that they are reacting to, rather than all foods with gluten. Breads now have more additives, are often are made from genetically modified grains, have more yeast added then previously and are no longer given the time needed to ferment before being baked. These factors play a big part in causing digestive disturbances on consumption. My preference is sourdough as it has naturally occurring yeasts and it ferments or sprouted breads as they are made with whole grains allowed to germinate, in both cases  making them easier to digest.

There is also the philosophy that we (humans) are not developed to eat grains as much as we do, as they are a relatively new part of our diet and contain phytic acid, which binds to other nutrients and is hard for the body to digest. Giving up the grains may be what is helping the "gluten freebies" to feel better. I recommend to eat small proportions of grains if you do consume them, rather than the large servings we often are habitually consuming - you can then fill up on extra vegetables and legumes.

It is important to remember that gluten-free does not mean healthy! The food industry is cashing in the big bucks modifying every product out there to have a gluten-free alternative. Normally the products are highly processed, often with added sugars and fats to increase the taste and texture. Don't be fooled!

The best way to tell if you are sensitive or not is to do an elimination diet, where you remove inflammatory foods, including gluten containing foods, out of your diet for a period of several weeks and then one by one introduce them again and record any symptoms. If you experience lethargy, skin reactions such as rashes, breakouts, dermatitis, asthma, bloating, cramps, loose stools or constipation, then you know you have eaten something that your body does not agree with. It is best to do this with the help of a naturopath or nutritionist.

Personally I eat predominantly gluten-free, more due to what I choose to include in my diet rather than what I avoid. I desire a large salad over a bowl of pasta and this is because I feel better eating this way. I have done a completely grain-free period for a month and felt good, however I found it unsustainable long term and happily eat rice, buckwheat and quinoa with no negative reactions. On occasions I am also not afraid to enjoy a good glutenous wheat pizza when I feel some serious Italian calling me!