What is gluten? The big question that is asked on at least a weekly basis for someone following a gluten-free diet!
Here’s a typical conversation that I have to endure:
Some guy (let’s call him Dick): What is gluten anyway?? Sounds like it’s been made up by someone to sell fad-dieters a bunch of expensive products.
Me: Sigh…gluten is very real and is mainly found in staple foods such as bread, pasta, and cereal, as well as anything using wheat flour such as cakes/biscuits. It runs riot with my intestines and causes all sorts of pain and toilet trips!
Dick: Yea but surely you can have a little bit?
Me: Nope, one tiny crumb and it’s game over.
Dick: Sounds to me like you need to man up mate.
Me: See ya later…Dick.
Anyway, on to answering the question at hand; what is gluten?
So, I bet you have found this article because either a) you have to follow a gluten-free diet but don’t yet get what the hell it is or b) you have to cater for someone gluten-free and are cacking yourself that you don’t poison them!
According to Wikipedia, ‘gluten‘ is: a composite of storage proteins termed prolamins and glutelins and stored together with starch…blah blah blah.
Let’s keep it simple. Gluten is a protein that is found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. It can also be found in oats as they are often processed in the same environment as the others, resulting in ‘cross contamination’.
Think of gluten as ‘glue’ – it’s what gives bread and pizza dough that elastic quality so that it can be stretched without tearing. It’s also used a heck of a lot as a thickener or a filler and can often be hidden in everyday cupboard items such as soy sauce and brown sauce.
Why is gluten so bad (for some people)?
It’s important to mention at this point that gluten is NOT bad for everyone. Despite the growing popularity of a gluten-free diet and endorsement from celebs, it can actually be harmful to exclude gluten from your diet if you aren’t medically advised to avoid it. Like any other food it is important to consume them in moderation – not remove entirely from your daily life.
Gluten is essentially an intestinal bomb and for those with Coeliac Disease or a sensitivity to gluten, it can result in serious pain and discomfort (and a lot of trips to the toilet!). This is because not all of us have fully developed a tolerance to processed foods since we started growing grain crops 10,000 years ago or so.
1 in 100 people have Coeliac Disease and must follow a strict gluten-free diet because gluten causes the immune system to essentially attack itself. This can result in painful bloating and diarrhoea along with potentially much more concerning long-term effects. This ‘attack’ prevents the body from absorbing key vitamins and nutrients and can lead to intestinal cancer or diabetes if not treated correctly.
From my conversations with others with Coeliac Disease their stomach either blows up like a balloon, they feel like someone is constantly poking their stomach with a sharp stick, or they have machine-gun bum (sorry).
So what is gluten in?
The more obvious ones:
- Wheat Flour
- Bread (made with normal flour)
- Breakfast Cereals (including oats)
The less obvious:
- Some meat such as burgers and sausages (for binding purposes)
- Sauces (e.g. Brown sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Soy sauce and any that might have required thickening)
- Ready meals
The key take-away from this article is that you become more vigilant of what is in the foods that you buy…
Whether you are following a gluten-free diet yourself or are dreading cooking a meal for your next visitor, then the best thing you can do is look at the ingredient lists of everything. It will say in bold whether there is gluten, wheat, barley, rye, or oats in there. It takes seconds to look over a packet to ensure that exploding stomachs are fully prevented!
So there you go, you should now have a good idea of what gluten is and can hopefully communicate it to the other ‘Dicks’ out there.
Note: I’m no medical expert in the matter and the above is my summary based on other reputable sources (as well as my own experience).