Medical Information

Why Be Gluten-Free

 Gluten-free is a buzzword of the health world. Expressions like “gluten allergy”, “celiac”, “intolerance” are in everyday conversations, especially about food. It is important to understand the difference between these terms.

Everyone who has celiac disease is gluten intolerant, but not everyone who is gluten intolerant has celiac disease. A wheat allergy is different  than celiac disease and gluten intolerance. 

It is extremely important to understand gluten related disorders and undergo any diagnostic medical testing before starting a gluten-free diet. 

What Is Gluten?

Gluten refers to the proteins found in cereal grain’s endosperm (a type of tissue produced in seeds that are ground to make flour). Gluten nourishes plant embryos during germination. Gluten is actually composed of two different proteins: gliadin (a prolamin protein) and glutenin (a glutelin protein). Though “true gluten” is sometimes defined as being specific to wheat, gluten is also found in barley and rye.  Gluten is also found in hybrids of wheat such as spelt, kamut and triticale.

When flour is mixed with water, the gluten proteins form a sticky network that has a glue-like consistency.  This glue-like property makes the dough elastic, and gives bread the ability to rise when baked. It also provides a chewy, satisfying texture.  The elasticity of gluten also allows dough to trap air bubbles when rising, making baked bread light and fluffy.

Interestingly, the name glu-ten is derived from this glue-like property of wet dough.

Is Gluten Harmful?

Normally when we digest protein, it gets broken down in the stomach and small intestine into single or double amino acids that are easily absorbed by the small intestine. But the gluten molecule is resistant to the enzymes that break down proteins. Rather than being digested, wheat is left as a long peptide chain composed of 33 amino acids. This molecule gets into the lining of the intestine, underneath the top layer of cells that line the villi. In some people this causes an immunological reaction and begins to inflame and destroy the cell wall.

Gluten is only bad for certain people. These people are gluten-sensitive or gluten-intolerant, which means their bodies produce an abnormal response when breaking down gluten during digestion.

Symptoms of celiac disease or gluten intolerance usually appear anywhere from 30 minutes to a few days after ingesting gluten.