Understanding Gluten

Understanding Gluten

Every now and then we come across a buzz word that seems to trend so fast that we wonder how we've never heard of it before. Organic farming, kale and resistant starch are some of those that made it to the food buzzword list. Another one that has been running steadily across news feeds, recipes, blogs and even talk shows is Gluten!

What is Gluten and what is Gluten-free food?

Gluten is nothing but a type of protein that is found in food made of grains such as wheat, rye and barley. It is this protein that makes the flour in the dough rise when mixed with water. If you're allergic to gluten, that takes away a lot of carbs from your diet, including all forms of bread - which can be difficult for many people. No wonder gluten-free cooking is becoming so popular since it requires one to be innovative to cook whole meals without using grains!

Why has it become such a big deal?

Gluten has been proven to cause allergic reactions in some people - the most severe of these reactions being a disease known as celiac. When gluten reaches the digestive tract of a celiac patient, their immune system mistakes the gluten protein for bacteria, attacks it and harms the digestive tract in the process. This results in severe abdominal pain for the patient. Over a period of time, this kind of reaction to gluten can lead to nutritional deficiencies, anaemia, weak bones, fatigue and poor immunity against diseases.

Celiac is not the only form of reaction among the gluten-intolerant. General fatigue, recurrent stomach aches, bloating and diarrhoea can be a result of your stomach's hostility toward gluten.

How do you know if you’re gluten-intolerant?

A blood-test, endoscopy or biopsy to test for celiac can be done. Endoscopy involves putting a thin lighted tube into the stomach to see the structure of the stomach surface. Biopsy is where a small sample of the tissue is taken to test in the lab. Since there are so many different ways a patient can react negatively to gluten, there is no test that can give 100% accurate results. Hence, if symptoms such as fatigue, anaemia or stomach pain continue to persist despite medication, you can try eliminating gluten from your diet for a while to determine the possibility of gluten-intolerance. On confirmation of celiac disease, the tests for anaemia and bone density should be done to ensure that if deficiencies are present, it is corrected.

If you do find out that you are gluten-sensitive, there is no need to worry. There are plenty of recipe books and websites that offer gluten-free cooking tips. You can still eat eggs, meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables. Flours and foods made with amaranth, arrowroot, beans, buckwheat, corn, cornmeal, flax, millet, potatoes, pure uncontaminated nut and oat bran, quinoa, rice, sorghum, soybeans, tapioca, or teff are okay. Avoid ale or beer as they are made from grains that could contain gluten.

The only thing you need to be extra cautious of are packaged and processed foods as some ‘wheat free’ or ‘gluten free’ foods could be processed in manufacturing sites that process other gluten containing foods and cross contamination could be a problem. This will be mostly indicated on the pack. So, make sure you read all the labels carefully before purchasing them.