Gluten has gone from being a little-known protein to a diet rage in recent years. Supermarket shelves are stocked with gluten-free goods, and many people attest to the advantages of eliminating this ingredient from their diets. However, what is gluten, and how does it impact our health? 

This blog post explores the possible health benefits of gluten as well as the illnesses it might cause by delving into its scientific basis.

What is Gluten

Image: Live Science

Gluten is a protein naturally present in some grains including rye, barley, and wheat. Wheat is the most prevalent grain among those that contain gluten. The two primary proteins found in gluten are gliadin and glutenin. The majority of gluten’s harmful effects on health are caused by gliadin. 

A network of sticky proteins with a consistency akin to glue is formed when flour and water combine. Similar to how a pizza maker tosses and stretches out a ball of dough, it functions as a binder, binding food together and giving it a “stretchy” appearance. If there was no gluten, the dough would tear readily. It’s interesting to note that this glue-like quality of wet dough gives rise to the word gluten.

Foods that contain gluten

  • Grains: bulgur, farina, couscous, farro, semolina, einkorn, durum, cracked wheat, matzo, mir (a hybrid between wheat and rye), whole wheat, wheat bran, barley, rye, triticale, spelt, kamut, and more.
  • Grain-based processed foods:  crackers, bread, breadcrumbs, pasta, seitan, soba noodles made with wheat, some plant-based burgers and other meat alternatives, cookies, and pastries.
  • Other food and beverages:  flavored chips, beer, some types of wine and liquor, processed meats, barley malt, malt vinegar, soy sauce, some salad dressings, sauces or gravies thickened with flour, bouillon, and some broths. 

Is Gluten Bad For You

Wheat and wheat-containing foods, which are widely available in our diet, are most frequently linked to gluten. Some people question the role of wheat and gluten in a healthy diet due to unfavorable media coverage. Few published studies have been done to substantiate these allegations; in fact, most published studies seem to imply the reverse.

Research published in The BMJ found no correlation between the long-term consumption of gluten and the risk of coronary heart disease. However, the study suggests that avoiding gluten could mean consuming less healthy whole grains, which could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Hence, it is not recommended to support gluten-free diets among individuals who do not have celiac disease. 

Additionally, gluten might nourish our bodies’ “good” bacteria by acting as a prebiotic. Bifidobacteria in the colon have been demonstrated to be stimulated by arabinoxylan oligosaccharide, a prebiotic carbohydrate obtained from wheat bran. In a healthy human gut, these bacteria are typically present. Irritable bowel syndrome, colon cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease are among the gastrointestinal disorders linked to alterations in their quantity or activity.

Gluten-Related Illnesses

Gluten’s negative aspects include the potential for major adverse effects in some people. Certain individuals experience a different reaction to gluten, in which case their immune systems overreact and attack the food since the body interprets it as a toxin. If a person who is inadvertently gluten intolerant keeps eating gluten, this forms a kind of battlefield that leads to inflammation.  

The following illnesses could also necessitate cutting back on or avoiding gluten in the diet: 

Celiac disease

Image: Healthline

The immune system of the body unintentionally targets the small intestine in reaction to consuming gluten, leading to a serious autoimmune condition known as celiac disease. The lining of the intestine becomes damaged over time, making it more difficult to absorb nutrients. 

Roughly 133 Americans, or 1% of the population, are estimated to have celiac disease, but 83% go untreated or receive incorrect diagnoses for unrelated illnesses. According to research, those with celiac disease also have a slightly increased risk of infertility, neurological diseases, osteoporosis, anemia (caused by malabsorption of calcium and iron, respectively), and in rare circumstances, malignancy. The good news is that the harm may be undone by cutting off gluten from the diet. The good news is that eliminating gluten from the diet may be able to reverse the damage.

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

Image: Beyond Celiac

Known by several names such as gluten intolerance or gluten-sensitive enteropathy (GSE), non-celiac gluten sensitivity is an intolerance to gluten that shares symptoms with celiac disease but does not result in high antibody levels or intestinal damage. GSE cannot be diagnosed with a test; instead, a diagnosis is made based on chronic symptoms and a negative celiac test.

Due to the fact that those who have gluten sensitivity do not exhibit the small intestinal damage associated with celiac disease and do not test positive for the condition via blood tests, gluten sensitivity has been clinically acknowledged as less severe than celiac disease. 

A study involving 392 individuals who were self-diagnosed as gluten intolerant was evaluated if they responded better to a gluten-free diet.

Two persons had a wheat allergy, according to the results, whereas just 26 people had celiac disease. Out of the remaining 364 individuals, only 27 were diagnosed with gluten sensitivity. This indicates that just 55 individuals, or 14% of the total, who believed they had a gluten sensitivity actually did.

Consequently, a lot of people who believe they have gluten intolerance may actually have symptoms from other conditions.

Meanwhile, a 2019 study found that up to 13% of people in Western countries report having some degree of sensitivity to gluten-containing items, and up to 5% of people say they choose to adopt a gluten-free diet.

Wheat Allergy

Image: America's Best Care Plus

Although a wheat allergy is closely related to gluten intolerance, it is not the same as gluten. 

Allergies to wheat involve an intolerance to the grain itself, rather than just the gluten protein. For this reason, a person with a wheat allergy has to stay away from wheat but can still safely eat gluten from nonwheat sources like barley or rye. 

Nevertheless, because the two substances are so closely related and occur in many of the same foods, a lot of people with wheat allergies wind up eating a mostly gluten-free diet. When they reach school age, children with wheat allergies can start consuming wheat again since they typically outgrow their allergies.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome 

Image: University of Utah Health

Health experts describe irregular bowel movements and abdominal pain as the hallmarks of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a chronic bowel illness. 

The irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and NCGS (non-celiac gluten sensitivity) are somewhat related because some IBS sufferers report having a wheat intolerance. Why wheat can cause issues for some IBS sufferers but not for others is a mystery to the scientific community. 

Regardless, a gluten-free diet may be suitable for certain IBS sufferers, particularly for those who have IBS-D, or irritable bowel syndrome-diarrhea, according to some studies.

Gluten-Free Diet

A gluten-free diet entails avoiding foods like wheat and rye products that contain the protein gluten. 

If not carefully planned, gluten-free diets can be costly and deficient in vital nutrients. You can still enjoy tasty and healthful meals with the wide variety of gluten-free options available. Working with a qualified dietician can be a great way to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients you need.

Gluten-Free Diet Alternatives

  • Fruits and vegetables: There is no gluten in any fresh fruit or vegetable. But occasionally, processed fruits and vegetables—especially if they’re flavored—have gluten-containing substances added. As a general rule, unsweetened and dry produce, canned in only water or juice, and plain and frozen produce are all free of gluten, but you should always double-check the labels.
  • Proteins: The majority of simple, unflavored, and fresh proteins are by nature gluten-free. Red meat (fresh beef, hog, lamb, and bison, for example); shellfish; nuts and seeds; legumes; and traditional soy foods (tofu, tempeh, and edamame).
  • Dairy products: Numerous dairy products are naturally gluten-free, especially if they are unflavored, plain, or don’t include any additives.
  • Fats and oils: Just about every type of fat or oil is inherently gluten-free, including butter, ghee, and oils derived from nuts and seeds. But make sure to give all cooking sprays and any flavored or spiced oils a thorough inspection.

Gluten-Free Food Labels

Image: Ebylife

To find out if a processed food item contains gluten, you must read the label. The name of the grain must appear on the label’s content list for any food that contains wheat, barley, rye, or triticale, or an ingredient derived from any of these grains.

Products marked as gluten-free, as per the U.S. Per Food and Drug Administration regulations, the gluten content cannot be more than 20 parts per million. Gluten-free labels can be applied to alcoholic beverages that contain naturally gluten-free ingredients like juniper berries or grapes.

An alcoholic beverage labeled as “processed,” “treated,” or “crafted” to eliminate gluten may be found on products derived from gluten-containing grains, including wheat, barley, rye, and hybrid grains like triticale. The beverage’s label must, however, indicate that the amount of gluten in it cannot be determined and may contain some gluten. It’s possible that some drinks lack a gluten-free label.

The Key Takeaways

Making informed dietary choices requires an understanding of what gluten is and its possible health implications. Seeing a medical specialist is the first step to a possible diagnosis and feeling your best if you feel uncomfortable after consuming gluten-rich meals. Recall that good general health and well-being depend on eating a balanced diet, regardless of whether one is gluten-free.

For more exciting insights on food and dietary choices, check out other blogs and offerings by Incloodie Food Tour. Embark on a delicious journey with us to discover diverse cuisines and the latest food trends. Explore now and satisfy your culinary.

Important Disclaimer

This blog article is meant to be informative; it is not meant to take the place of expert medical advice. See a physician for a precise diagnosis and individualized therapy if you think you may have a gluten-related problem. 

 

Resources

Journal Articles
  • Green, P. H. R., & Cellier, C. (2007). Celiac disease. The BMJ, 357, j1892. [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28465308]
  • Aziz. I., & Sanders, D. S. (2019). Beyond celiac disease: Non-celiac gluten sensitivity. PMC, 6636598. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4596973]
Websites
  • Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Gluten. The Nutrition Source. Retrieved April 25, 2024, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/gluten/
  • Gillett, R. (2018, November 1). Gluten: Everything you need to know. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318606
  • Raman, R. (2022, March 24). What is Gluten? Foods, Side Effects, and More. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-gluten#food-sources
  • Beyond Celiac. (n.d.). Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. Retrieved April 25, 2024, from https://www.beyondceliac.org/celiac-disease/non-celiac-gluten-sensitivity/

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