Gluten-free diets have become very popular and many people jump on the band-wagon, sometimes without even realizing what gluten is and why they should avoid it.
What is gluten? A dietary villain out to get you and make your life miserable? Not exactly so…
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and some other grains to a lesser degree. It consists of two main structural proteins – Gliadin and Glutenin.
Gliadin is the one responsible for causing an immune reaction in people with Celiac disease – an autoimmune condition featured by inability to digest and metabolize gluten, leading to gastrointestinal upset, malabsorption of nutrients and disintegration on intestinal lining, brought about by the body’s own immune cells, attacking it. The only way to treat this condition is to eliminate gluten altogether, which might be easier said than done, as gluten is in so many products these day – added to many processed foods like canned soups and deli meats. It is critical to check ingredients of every packaged food they buy.
Glutenin is the cause of wheat allergy in affected individuals.
In the last several decades, along with Celiac disease, many people started reporting experiencing symptoms of intolerance when consuming gluten-containing products – indigestion, headache, nutrient deficiencies, etc. The condition was named Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). What’s up with that? And how come there were no records of this ailment in the past?
As it appears, in the last few decades several factors influenced the quality of bread products we eat now:
· Genetically modified and specially bred wheat varieties to yield higher gluten content (for baking properties – like to add fluff and tenderness)
· Adding preservatives to bread products for longer shelf life
· Adding extra gluten to bread products, thus increasing gluten-to other-ingredients ratio, making it difficult for compromised digestive and immune systems to deal with.
Many people turn to whole wheat products, as directed by well-meaning dietary guidelines, USDA and nutrition professionals, thinking they are doing a healthier choice. However, when made out of whole wheat flour, breads and pastries lack the airy tenderness, turn out to be grainy, hard and flat. To avoid it, manufacturers add pure gluten and other not-so-natural ingredient to make products more palatable.
Quality of not just bread, but all foods matters. In order to eat healthfully, we must become our personal investigators (CSI professional on call!) – take our health in our own hands and do a due diligence work every time we buy packaged (like bread and pastries) foods:
· Check the ingredients lists, not just food labels. If it’s longer than 5 items – look for an alternative;
· Alternatives – artisanal breads like sourdough breads (made with only flour, salt, water and yeast/bacteria starter) made in local bakeries (do your research) is the healthiest version and delicious as well. It’s preparation takes time, and during fermentation, the bacteria and yeast predigest sugars and gluten in the dough, making it easier to assimilate for your body.
· Make your own – flat bread is super easy to make, and you are in control of what you put in it. Use whole wheat flour that provides fiber and wholesome nutrients. Add rosemary and oregano or garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and olives to add some flavor.
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