Gluten is compound protein that is constituents of grains such as wheat, rye, oat and barley. Wheat may contain over 80% of gluten in its structure. This protein makes dough elastic and allows it to rise when baking. But why is it dangerous for our health? Especially when people have been eating bread for thousands of years? In this article we will answer these and some of the other questions about this protein.
What products contain gluten?
It can found in bread, pastry, cakes, pasta, cookie, candy, beer. Besides this, gluten is added to some products to give them more rich and/or elastic consistence, for example it can be contained in ketchup, gravies, sauces, chips, ice-cream, soy sauce, frozen vegetables, and even in some medicaments. If a package with a product says ‘hydrolyzed vegetable protein’ be sure this product contains gluten.
Gluten also can be found in some cosmetics, such as lipstick and powder. Also pay attention at the compound of creams and lotions, many of them contain vitamin E which is also synthesized from wheat. It means they also may have gluten. It is not absorbed through skin, but there is always a risk to swallow a little amount of cosmetics (lipstick, for example), and then people with gluten intolerance may have problems.
Why is gluten bad for health?
If people are genetically intolerant to gluten, eating products that contain it can cause adverse reactions – celiac disease. In such cases immune system recognizes this protein as a foreign invader and starts attacking it. The problem is that not only gluten is under the firing line, but also the tissues where immune cells met it. First of all it is small intestine. Such immune reaction allows classifying celiac disease as an autoimmune disease. It all may lead to intestinal wall degeneration, symptoms of which can be stomachache, stool inconsistency, bloating, fatigue, anemia. Also this disease may affect the barrier function of the intestine, causing absorption of unwanted substances through the walls of intestine into blood.
It is believed that approximately 1% of people have celiac disease. It is extremely hard to diagnose this disease, that’s why 80% people with this disorder don’t even know about it.
Besides celiacs 30% of people can have other adverse reactions to gluten, for example a disorder called gluten sensitivity. Symptoms of this sensitivity are alike to celiac disease but without autoimmune reaction.
Besides digestive tract, gluten may cause some neurological disorders, one of them is cerebellar ataxia – a brain condition which leads to problems with talking and inability to coordinate movements and balance.
Why gluten problem is so pertinent nowadays?
The thing is that wheat that we consume now is very different to the wheat our ancestor ate. Selectionists picked the sorts of wheat with higher levels of proteins to grow, and as a result modern wheat has hundreds times more gluten than its predecessor. Amino acid links of glutenin and gliadin (components of gluten) has also been modified with not so good consequences. Giadin, for example, became a very powerful appetite stimulator.
So our menu, consisting of repetitious products and high levels of glutens in them increased the frequency of gluten intolerance disorders by 400% within 200 years of observation. It all makes it important to eat more natural organic food with natural ingredients and be cautious about harmful ingredients in your food.
What to do?
If you suspect that you may have one of these disorders you can experiment excluding gluten products out of your menu for 2 weeks, letting intestine recover. During this time you can consume meat and fish, eggs, potato, rice, corn, peace, beans, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Some grains, such as buckwheat and sorgos, don’t contain gluten. However don’t think that you can use gluten free diet to lose some weight. Some gluten free products that substitute bread, pastry and sweets in fact have more calories that they gluten analogues.