Gluten-Free 101 – Introduction
The idea of a gluten-free diet wasn’t so common not too long ago if you didn’t have coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance. Now, the term ‘gluten-free’ has gone mainstream, as it is viewed as a healthy diet alternative.
Let’s explore this further.
A natural protein which is found in some grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye, is gluten. A binding agent gives dough its elasticity and grain-based products their shape, texture, and strength. When a baker rolls out bread dough or a pizza maker throws pizza dough into the air, the dough would crumble without gluten.
GLUTEN-FREE 101 – YOUR HEALTH
It is essential for people with gluten intolerance or coeliac disease to reduce or eliminate gluten-rich foods from their diet. However, how about everyone else?
Opinions differ concerning the health benefits of a gluten-free diet. However, according to a survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center published in 2014, gluten-free diets tend to be more nutritious and contain more vitamins and minerals.
On the other hand, Harvard studies have found that gluten-free foods are less fortified with folic acid and minerals (iron etc.) than conventional foods. Further, gluten-free products often contain less fibre, more sugar, and more fat, which can lead to weight gain and higher chances of obesity-often due to the additional additives used to compensate for taste and texture.
Simply because a product is gluten-free does not mean it is healthier by definition. When it comes to health, make sure to always check the food label for hidden sugars, additives, and nutritional content.
GLUTEN-FREE 101 – WHAT GLUTEN DOES TO YOUR BODY
Gluten can be found in foods like pizza, bread, pasta, and cereal, but it does not provide any essential nutrients to the body. Gluten is the only protein that cannot actually be digested.
Gluten passes through our system virtually unnoticed as long as we don’t suffer from intolerances or coeliac disease. If people with coeliac disease consume gluten-rich foods, their digestive system can become so damaged that they cannot absorb nutrients from food. In addition, gluten triggers an immune response in people with coeliac disease, causing inflammation and a considerable amount of damage to the various parts of the body.
HOW PRODUCTS BECOME GLUTEN-FREE
There are numerous so-called “gluten-free” products in the supermarket today. Specific regulations need to be followed for all of these products. When can we consider a gluten-free product genuinely gluten-free?
WHY CAN THE EXACT SAME FOOD SOMETIMES BE GLUTEN-FREE, AND SOMETIMES NOT?
As part of the gluten-free label, it is important to consider where the product is manufactured. Even though some foodstuffs are naturally gluten-free, they can’t always be labelled as such. Their contamination is due to the fact that they were processed in a facility that also processes gluten-containing products.
Oats, for example, are naturally gluten-free; however, they don’t get the gluten-free accreditation because they are grown near to, or are processed in the same facilities as other grains that contain gluten, such as spelt, farina and wheat berries.
HOW GLUTEN IS REMOVED
Note: you cannot do this yourself. It is a manufacturing process.
There are many “gluten-free” products manufactured from ingredients that are synthetically devoid of gluten. Fibre, starch, and gluten protein are the main components of wheat. Gluten is extracted from wheat by milling it into flour. The starch is then turned into dough so that it can be washed out since starch dissolves in water while gluten does not. As a result of this process, the gluten protein can be separated from the starch solution, which can then be drained and dried.
WHEN A PRODUCT IS DEEMED TO BE GLUTEN-FREE
Food can be labelled gluten-free if it contains no more than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. Due (in part) to the inability of modern technologies to detect gluten below 20ppm and the fact that such a small amount of gluten shouldn’t affect people who suffer from coeliac disease.
GLUTEN-FREE 101 – SUMMARY
For those who are diagnosed as sensitive to gluten or who are gluten intolerant, the increased availability of gluten-free products is clearly a good thing for them. However, if you don’t have coeliac disease or intolerance, there’s no reason to avoid gluten. In fact, like with many other food labels, food manufacturers are very generously using such labels in their marketing, which means you are paying a higher price. So if you are not gluten intolerant, you are simply wasting money.
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