Gluten and gluten-free are commonly used terms in our society today, but what are they really?
The term gluten originates from the Latin word for glue, which is one way to describe what gluten actually is. Gluten is a protein composite that is found in foods that were processed from wheat, barley, rye and other grains/grass in the same family. Gluten is what allows dough to be stretchy, and kind of acts like glue by sticking everything together helping it keep its shape.
Gluten can be extracted from wheat flour dough by working it in your hands under cold water, because it is not water soluble. The cold water will dissolve the starch in the dough, leaving the gluten behind. Once the gluten is dried it can be put into be used for many things including an additive to dough for better rising and in imitation meats.
Gluten-free is what it sounds like, to be free of gluten. The term gluten-free is used to refer to a diet that consists of no gluten or gluten containing products. People on a gluten free diet eliminate many breads and pastas from their diets as well as cookies, cakes, and anything else containing regular wheat flour. Gluten-free dieters must be careful to read food label thoroughly to check for wheat or other hidden sources of gluten in any of the foods they want to eat before eating them. Many food products in the U.S. have allergy warnings on them stating below the ingredients what major allergens they contain, however not all products are labeled so careful attention is necessary.
Gluten-free dieters also need to watch the products that they have been eating knowing that they are gluten free, because sometimes companies will change their gluten free products without warning, usually due to the company trying to save money. Gluten-free products can be more expensive to produce and therefore less profitable for the companies making them.
Most people who are on a gluten-free diet are on it because they medically need to be. Celiac Disease is one of the top medical reasons for a person to be on gluten-free diet. Some people are allergic to gluten and others have sensativities to gluten, which is not considered a “true” allergy, but causes the person discomfort none the less. Gluten has been tied to many physical ailments including arthritis, nerve pain, irritable bowel syndrome, ADD/ADHD, exsyma, and many more. The estimated number of people who have Celiac disease is 4 times as many as it was half a century ago.
The general theory behind the overwhelmingly large amount and increase of the number of people who are sensitive to gluten is actually two-fold. The first part being that in general our diets contain an extremely large amount of red meat and very limited fruits and vegetables, which negatively affects the body’s immune system and immune response. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, so damaging the immune system can increase the risk of developing it at some point.
It has been suggested that someone without Celiac disease, but with the genes to develop it, may be able to prevent it by eating the right healthy and balanced diet. The most important part being that it is balanced at a ratio of no more the 30% red meats and as close to 70% fruits and vegetables as possible. The other part of the theory for increased number of people with some level of gluten sensitivity is simply that doctors are looking for it more often and more actively then they were in the past.