Gluten is a protein molecule commonly found in grains like rye, wheat, and barley. Found in almost every variety of bread, cereal, or grain. Most types of bread contain this protein.
The exceptions to the gluten in food rule are grains like wild rice, corn, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, quinoa, teff, soybeans, oats, and sunflower seeds. Breads or products made from these grains contain no gluten.
Is Gluten “Bad?”
People who prefer to avoid gluten fall in two categories–either they’re allergic (this is known as Celiac disease) or because they believe it will lead to health problems. Supposedly problems can arise in the digestive system. Everything from intestinal ulcers to gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
How Do You Avoid Gluten?
The easiest way to avoid the protein is to not eat foods that contain it, or to eat very little of them. Unfortunately, even some “gluten-free” foods are contaminated because of the way they are grown or prepared.
It is possible to remove most of the protein from wheat flour–this process produces wheat starch rather than wheat flour, and wheat starch is mostly gluten-free. We say “mostly” because it is impossible to get rid of all of it.
To be declared “gluten free”, the FDA requires only a “majority” of the protein in a substance to be removed. So a “gluten-free” bread may have only a little bit of gluten in it, but this can be enough to cause someone with celiac disease to have a bad reaction.
What Is Gluten Good For?
Gluten can be a good thing. Gluten makes bread chewy and elastic–bread without gluten is not “chewy” the way bread should be. When gluten is removed, bread dough becomes sticky and thick and makes a bread that is dense and hard.
Gluten provides nutrients, protein, and the “rising” ability of bread. Gluten also becomes firm while it cooks and (when combined with a starch) gives the bread its typical “bread shape” that we know and love. Bread without gluten is just plain ugly.
A final “plus” in gluten’s corner is its ability to absorb. Sopping up gravy or pasta sauce with bread is only possible because gluten absorbs liquid well. That’s why gluten is usually in most meat substitute products, to imitate the absorbent quality of meat.
Gluten is an important part of many people’s nutrition, but it also causes digestive problems for some of the population. If you think you have a problem with gluten, contact your doctor to decide on testing and a possible course of treatment.