Gluten is wheat endosperm protein. Endosperm is tissue produced in seeds which are ground to produce flour. As plant embryos grow within the seed, gluten provides nourishment for germination. When these seeds are ground into flour and baked, gluten affects dough elasticity, making baked goods like bread chewy.
There are two different proteins in gluten. The first is gliadin. Gliadin is a prolamin protein. The second is glutenin, a glutelin protein. Gluten is mistakenly believed by many to be in only wheat products. However, it can also be present in products based from other cereal grains like rye and barley.
These cereal grains also contain protein composites derived from glutelins and prolamins, just like wheat.
What makes gluten bad for some people?
Gluten does not negatively affect everyone. It causes problems for those who are gluten intolerant. Gluten intolerance is a condition as part of which some people’s bodies produce a negative immune response while breaking down gluten during digestion. Celiac disease is the most well known type of gluten intolerance. When a person with celiac disease eats foods with gluten in them, an immune response is triggered by their body.
This response damages their intestines and prevents vital nutrients from being absorbed. According to the National Institutes of Health, this disease affects about three million people in America. Another type of gluten intolerance is wheat allergy. This is more rare than celiac disease and is a classic food allergy. People with wheat allergy have skin, respiratory or digestive problems after consuming wheat or wheat proucts. A third type of gluten intolerance is nonceliac gluten sensitivity. This is a reaction to gluten wherein celiac disease symptoms are suffered, but the intestines do not become damaged.
What is a gluten-free diet?
If someone is diagnosed with gluten intolerance, their doctor will usually recommend a gluten-free diet. This type of diet is free of foods, beverages, ingredients and even medications with gluten in them. This can be overwhelming at first. However, with proper education and planning, a gluten-free diet can soon become an easy pathway to feeling great again. For many people with celiac disease or other gluten intolerance, a gluten-free diet will stop symptoms. Remaining dedicated to this diet can also heal existing damage in the intestines and prevent future damage from occurring. After only a few weeks, a patient starting a gluten-free diet will start experiencing healing within their small intestine. In as little as six to 18 months, the small intestine may be completely repaired. It may take longer for the intestines of senior adults to heal, but such healing is possible. Gluten-free food options are often nutrient-deficient, so it is important that special attention is paid to ensuring good nutrition. For someone starting a gluten-free diet for the first time, working with a dietician is often recommended by the doctor. Taking supplements may be required to help balance the diet. There are also a wide variety of resources for people who are starting or living on a gluten-free diet, such as support groups, cookbooks, nutrition charts, and smartphone apps.