Gluten is a protein that can be found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. It is commonly added to bread, pasta, and baked goods to give them a chewy texture and help them rise. However, gluten consumption can lead to a variety of health issues for certain individuals.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains. Gluten is created when two proteins, glutenin and gliadin, combine to form a stretchy, elastic texture that helps foods rise and maintain their shape. Gluten is a common ingredient in bread, pasta, cereal, and baked goods.
Sources of gluten
- Wheat: This encompasses all wheat forms, including durum, spelt, semolina, and farro.
- Barley: This category contains malt, which is produced from barley.
- Rye: This comprises all types of rye, including the wheat-rye hybrid triticale.
- Other grains: Gluten is also present in other grains, including bulgur, kamut, and oats. Oats do not naturally have gluten, but they are frequently processed in facilities that also treat gluten-containing cereals, which might result in cross-contamination.
Gluten is typically present in bread, pasta, cereal, baked goods, and snacks, among other processed foods. It can also be found in soups, sauces, and processed meats, among other unexpected sources. It is essential to thoroughly examine food labels to identify whether a product contains gluten.
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products are naturally gluten-free foods. Therefore, it is essential to verify labels and ingredients to ensure that gluten is not added during processing or preparation.
How does gluten affect the body?
Wheat products contain fiber and essential nutrients, including protein and iron. Seitan, a cooked wheat gluten product, is a vegetarian source of iron and protein.
As a prebiotic, gluten may also contribute to overall gut health. Prebiotics nourish the digestive tract’s beneficial bacteria. Maintaining healthy gut flora can reduce inflammation and possibly prevent colon cancer.
Gluten is harmless and does not cause adverse health effects in most people. However, gluten consumption can lead to various health issues for specific individuals.
- Celiac disease
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that harms the small intestine when gluten is consumed. This can result in symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal pain, gas, and weight loss. Over time, celiac disease can lead to nutrient malabsorption and an increased risk of developing osteoporosis and infertility.
- Gluten sensitivity
Some individuals can develop symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, and fatigue after consuming gluten, even if they do not have celiac disease. This is known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity or gluten sensitivity.
- Wheat allergy
Some individuals may be allergic to wheat, which is one of the gluten-containing grains. Wheat allergy symptoms include hives, itching, and breathing difficulties.
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Gluten consumption has been linked to aggravating IBS symptoms in some patients.
- Dermatitis herpetiformis
Dermatitis herpetiformis is a skin disorder that causes itchy, blistering rashes. Celiac illness is linked to gluten intolerance, which results from eating gluten.
What is a gluten-free diet?
A gluten-free diet is a dietary plan that removes gluten. A gluten-free diet is used to manage or treat gluten-related diseases, such as celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergy.
Individuals on a gluten-free diet should consume naturally gluten-free foods, such as:
- Fruits and vegetables.
- Meat, poultry, and fish.
- Dairy products.
- Beans and legumes.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Gluten-free grains, such as rice, corn, quinoa, and buckwheat.
- Gluten-free flour, such as almond flour, coconut flour, and tapioca flour.
Should I go on a gluten-free diet?
Although a gluten-free diet may be useful for those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or wheat allergy, it is not suggested for other individuals. Certain gluten-free foods may include more calories and fewer nutrients than their gluten-containing counterparts. When beginning a gluten-free diet, it is essential to see a healthcare physician or trained dietitian to verify that all nutritional needs are addressed.
Can gluten cause weight gain?
Gluten itself does not promote weight gain. However, some gluten-containing foods, such as bread and pasta, maybe more calorie-dense than other foods, which, if consumed in abundance, might lead to weight gain.
Can I eat gluten if I have a wheat allergy?
Wheat allergy may require avoidance of all gluten-containing cereals, including wheat. Nonetheless, consulting with a healthcare professional to identify the most appropriate treatment plan is essential.