As you may or may not be aware, the gluten-free craze is very much now a thing. Not only is it a thing, but it is a thing that is here to stay. More and more people are making the decision to cut gluten from their diets, and they are reaping the rewards as a result. There is however, a great deal of uncertainty behind why people cut gluten from their diets in the first place, and surrounding what gluten actually is. We’ve all heard of gluten, and gluten-free diets, but do we know the heck gluten actually is? The answer for many of us is no. After reading today’s article however, all will become clear. Today we’re going to be looking at what gluten really is, where it comes from, and why some people choose not to consume it.
What the heck is gluten? – Starting as we mean to go on, we’ll begin by taking a look at what gluten actually is. Gluten is a protein found in certain grains. In fact, gluten is a collective term used to describe a series of proteins found within certain grains. Gluten is responsible for giving certain baked products like bread and bagels, their elastic and stretchy texture. All grains come from plants. In fact, the grains are the reproductive seeds of the plants, so technically, all of these plants come from grains. The seeds consist of three individual parts:
- The endosperm (the interior)
- The bran (the exterior shell)
- The germ (the core)
Now, the gluten is found within the endosperm, which means it is found inside the seed. When we consume wholegrains, this means that we are consuming all three individual parts of the seed. When we consume refined grains, this means that we are eating the endosperm as the bran and the germ have now been removed. So, refined grains are predominantly where gluten is found. You’ll find gluten in a variety of grains, including wheat, rye, and barley.
The science behind gluten free grains – Now we’re going to get a bit more technical and look at gluten in more detail. Gluten actually consists of two individual proteins. These are glutelin proteins and prolamin proteins. You’ll find these proteins in most grains, although it is wheat, rye, and barley that generally spring to mind when defining gluten. You can purchase gluten-free grains, which still contain these glutelin proteins and prolamin proteins, so how come they don’t cause digestive issues? Well, they have unique amino acid chains which are different to the gluten-containing grains. As proteins are broken down into amino acids they don’t cause the same ill-effects as gluten-containing grains. Basically, the different amino acid chains help render these grains safe.
Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity – Until fairly-recently, doctors thought that all gluten-related issues were linked to Celiac disease. This is an autoimmune condition which causes inflammation inside and outside the intestinal wall when gluten is consumed. However, experts now know that there are a series of other gluten-related issues, which although very similar to Celiac disease, are actually still different and unique in some ways. Gluten sensitivity is a prime example as it means we don’t synthesize antibodies for our own tissues, nor do we experience the same levels of intestinal distress. The other symptoms however, are virtually identical.