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What is Gluten?

Gluten is often confused as a protein from animals, but it actually comes from the cereal family. Here's more about gluten and how it affects our health.
NutriNeat Staff
In the 7th century, the Buddhist monks discovered gluten while kneading wheat flour with water to make a dough. Gluten is found naturally in grains, and binds together two separate proteins found within the grain. It consists of two proteins―gliadin and glutenin―and is commonly found in wheat, barley, and rye. As it is insoluble in water, it can be obtained by washing away the associated starch and used as a leavening agent. An important source of protein, gluten is found in foods in their natural state, and also as an additive in low-protein foods.

Gluten Allergy and Intolerance
Gluten allergy results from being gluten intolerant. Gluten intolerance is often mistaken to be a food allergy, but it is actually an inherited autoimmune disease. It causes gastrointestinal distress to the immune system, leading to damage of the small intestine. Gluten intolerance is also called celiac disease, and has no cure, but can only be managed by following some dietary rules. There are several types of gluten intolerance, each varying in their symptoms and severity:
  • Silent Celiac Disease: This is difficult to detect, as there are no external symptoms, but it can cause a substantial amount of intestinal damage.
  • Refractory Celiac Disease: A rare intolerance, in which the symptoms show no improvement, despite one being on a gluten-free diet for months. Some medical practitioners consider this form of intolerance to be a cancer.
  • Collagenous Celiac Disease: This is a fatal type of intolerance that accumulates a large amount of scar tissue under the intestinal lining that is characterized by diarrhea, emaciation and anemia.
  • Latent Celiac Disease: This type of intolerance does not show any external symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal pain, though it can cause damage to the intestines.
Gluten-free Diet
Once diagnosed with a gluten allergy, all it takes to ensure good health is precaution. Though most foods are gluten-free in nature, they no longer stay free when cooked with gluten. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all companies to list food allergens on their labels, but unfortunately, these labels do not tell consumers everything. You can ensure a complete gluten-free diet if you buy fresh food and cook it yourself. Following are a list of gluten-free foods:
  • Grains and Flour: Gluten-free bread, biscuits, cakes and flour, made from whole grains are easily found in the market.
  • Fruits: They are naturally free, however you must be careful while cooking or buying prepackaged fruit, as their preservatives could have gluten. Fruits are best eaten raw.
  • Vegetables: Like fruits, vegetables are also gluten-free in their natural state. It's the cooking medium that can add gluten to the vegetables. It is best to steam, boil, saute and even stir fry them using a gluten-free medium.
  • Dairy: Most milk products are gluten-free, but one must check the ingredients while purchasing cheese, butter and yogurt.
  • Meat and Poultry: They are also gluten-free, but the commercially prepared meat and poultry products have gluten in them. While cooking at home, it is best to use gluten-free flour to make gravy for your food.
Foods Containing Gluten
According to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), two million Americans suffer from gluten allergy. It is believed that genetics has a major role in this intolerance. As said earlier, only prevention can aid in managing this allergy. Following is a list of some foods one must avoid:
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Wheat
  • Oats
  • Bulgur
  • Durum wheat
  • Semolina
  • Emmer/Farro wheat
  • Matzo flour
  • Udon
  • Spelt
Untreated gluten intolerance increases the risk of other autoimmune diseases, including cancer. It could also lead to malnutrition, diabetes, lupus, etc. It may seem a daunting task to differentiate between gluten and gluten-free foods, but the list for the latter is longer, and it just takes a little awareness and planning to lead a healthy life.