It is becoming more common for shoppers to see foods on supermarket shelves which are touted as being “gluten-free”, and many restaurants are beginning to add these types of meals to their menus as well. However, many people do not know what gluten is, or what foods typically contain it.
Gluten is a protein which is found in many grains, and products which contain whole or processed grains. Wheat, barley, rye, and other grains typically contain gluten, and it can be found in food items such as cereal, pizza crust, bread, rolls, and other similar foods. The gluten content of the dough is directly related to the consistency of the finished product; bread dough, and the flour used to make it, is typically higher in gluten than the finer powders used for pastries.
Though gluten is typically found in foods containing grain, it is possible for bread, cereal and other such grain-based foods to be gluten-free.
Gluten is insoluble in water, but the starches in the foods are usually attached to the gluten, and by washing out the starch, the gluten is also removed. This is done by kneading a ball of dough under cold water until the starch has dispersed into the water, carrying the gluten with it. This can be done by hand, or with machinery. The water and starch is then removed, taking the gluten with it, so that the bread made with the treated dough is gluten-free. The gluten can actually be processed and packaged, and used for other food products, such as imitation meat. It is also used as a stabilizer in other foods, such as ice cream and ketchup.
People who suffer from a condition known as celiac disease are sensitive to gluten, and unable to consume products made with it. Individuals with this disease experience an autoimmune reaction to gluten when it reaches their small intestine. The reaction damages the surface of the small intestine, making it unable to absorb certain essential nutrients. There can be potentially serious health complications resulting from malnutrition, so it is important for individuals with this condition to avoid gluten as much as possible.
One of the best ways to avoid these symptoms is to eat a diet that is free of gluten; those with celiac disease, or sensitivity to gluten, can purchase breads, pastas, cereals and other grain products which are gluten-free. There are also many other foods, encompassing all of the major food groups, which are naturally gluten-free, and which can supplement a celiac disease sufferer’s diet.
These include seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables, eggs and most dairy products, and fresh meat, fish and poultry. Grains which do not contain gluten include corn and cornmeal, flax, rice, soy, and buckwheat, and individuals who cannot eat gluten can have bread and pastry products made with these ingredients without having to worry. If you are trying to follow a moderate Paleo diet plan then a small consumption of flax and buckwheat may be tolerable; beans, corn, and soy although gluten-free are not approved on the Paleo plan, fermented soy is ok.
~Contributed by InspireHappy Staff Writer