Checking for allergens when buying a food product is par for the course. We all do it. There is usually some substance to be avoided. Gluten is one of these substances.
Mothers of young children know all too well that gluten intolerance is not a 'new age' fad. It is a very real condition. We have all struggled over food choices for our family members that present with this problem.
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GLUTEN! WHATEVER IS THAT?
Gluten is a special type of protein that is commonly found in rye, wheat and barley.
Therefore it is found in most types of cereal and in many types of bread.
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines gluten as:
'A sticky substance; a gum; a glue.......a substance present in flour, especially flour of wheat, which is responsible for the elastic cohesion of dough and is a mixture chiefly of two proteins."
These two protein groups are:
GLIADINS which give wheat dough its flow characteristics
GLUTENINS which provide the elasticity in finished wheat products.
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines glutenin as:“The chief protein present in wheat flour.”
EXTRACTION OF GLUTEN
Gluten can be removed from wheat flour by rinsing bread dough and kneading it until all the starch has been removed.
Gluten is INSOLUBLE in water.
Starch is SOLUBLE.
An insoluble gummy mass remains behind, 70% to 80% of which is gluten.
HOW WAS GLUTEN DISCOVERED?
Legend attributes the discovery of gluten to Buddhist monks in 7th century China who sought meat-like ingredients to use in their vegetarian diets.
They made dough from wheat flour and water, submerged it in cold water and kneaded it. The starch components of the dough dissolved and the gluten, an insoluble gummy mass, was left behind.
CHARATERISTICS AND USES OF GLUTEN
a) Gluten helps make bread elastic and provides it with the chewy texture it has when eaten. The enhanced elasticity and chewiness leads to chewier products like pizza and bagels.
b) Gluten keeps the gases that are released during fermentation in the bread is able to rise before it is baked. As it firms up when cooked, and with the help of starch, it helps ensure the bread maintains it shape.
c) Gluten has an absorbent quality. Therefore bread is capable of soaking up broth (including the taste).
d) It is widely used in vegetarian, vegan and Buddhist cuisines as a meat substitute. In China and Japan it is the basis for imitation meats.
e) The protein content of pet foods is enhanced by adding gluten.
f) As an additive it is used as a stabilizing agent in products like ice-cream and ketchup.
Many foods contain gluten and do not indicate it in their list of ingredients because they are not in the formulation of the products, but in the preparation of some of the listed ingredients.
For example, the dusting of conveyer belts used in the production machinery to prevent the food sticking during processing may contain gluten. Therefore the food itself may not contain gluten, but there would be gluten in the ingested product.
A GLUTEN FREE DIET IS RECOMMENDED AMONGST OTHER THINGS IN THE TREATMENT OF COELIAC DISEASE.
WHAT IS COELIAC DISEASE? Dr Harris Steinman in his work on “Wheat, Gluten Allergy, Gluten and Gluten Enteropathy” states: Coeliac Disease (CD), also called Gluten Enteropathy, has until recently been known as Gluten Intolerance. CD is a hereditary disorder of the immune system in which eating gluten leads to damage of the mucosa (lining) of the small intestine (small gut). This results in malabsorption of nutrients and vitamins.
The condition is permanent and damage to the small intestine will occur every time gluten is consumed.
THE ONSET OF SYMPTOMS;
a) Exposure to wheat, for example, when an infant is weaned and introduced to solids.
b) A genetic disposition and some kind of ‘trigger’ mechanism. Trigger mechanisms may include factors such as:
- a) Physical or emotional stress
- b) Trauma as experienced during surgery or pregnancy.
- c) Over-exposure to wheat.
- d) Viral infections.
- e) Some diseases and even antibiotics.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF COELIAC DISEASE?
Classic symptoms include:
Diarrhoea, weight loss, anaemia, chronic fatigue, bone pain and muscle cramps.
The disease frequently presents with other symptoms and often only one symptom may be experienced. It is also possible that an individual may present with no symptoms other than an anaemia-related fatigue.
In children, gastro-intestinal problems are more evident. Behavioural changes may be displayed. These include apathy, irritation and poor school performance. Loss of appetite, weight loss, poor weight gain and a general failure to thrive are some of the many problems that may manifest themselves.
Young children who are affected cannot participate fully in party events which may result in poor social skills. Mothers need to be inventive and send a party box with their child, with strict instructions to the carers.
HELP IS AT HAND
Most doctors are alert to the possibility of the existence of Coeliac Disease as it may present with very subtle symptoms.
There are various blood tests that can be used to support the diagnosis of C.D.
WHAT IS THE TREATMENT OF COELIAC DISEASE?
Medication is ineffective. The only treatment available is the complete removal of gluten from the diet. This usually involves life-long avoidance of all cereals containing gluten, including wheat, rye and barley.
HOW COMMON IS COELIAC DISEASE?
In certain countries it is one of the most common life-long disorders. Dr Steinman describes how it is frequently under- diagnosed, particularly in adults who may present with subtle symptoms.
- In Sweden, the incidence is as high as 1 in 200
- It rarely affects Africans, Asians or people of Mediterranean extraction.
- It primarily affects Caucasians of north-western descent.
- It affects twice as many females as males.
Anybody on an avoidance diet is at risk of developing deficiencies of micro-nutrients e.g. thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, iron, selenium and magnesium etc.
It is therefore imperative that a gluten-free diet be framed with the help of a registered dietician.
Info on gluten-free diets is becoming increasingly available world-wide and gluten-free products are now more abundant and more easily available.
GLUTEN – FREE FOODS
Several grains and starch sources are considered acceptable for a gluten-free diet.
Most frequently used are: maize (corn), potatoes, rice and tapioca (derived from cassava.)
Amaranth, arrowroot, millet, montina, lupine, quinoa, sorghum, sweet potato.
Buckwheat is not related to wheat and is acceptable on a gluten-free diet. BUT NOT A MIXTURE OF WHEAT AND BUCKWHEAT.
Various types of bean, soybean and nut flours are sometimes used in gluten-free products to add protein and dietary fibre.
Those of us following a complete gluten-free diet must check the ingredients of any over-the-counter or prescription medication and vitamins. Ask a pharmacist to help you to avoid gluten.
Cosmetics such as lipsticks, lip balms and lip gloss may also contain certain gluten.
Catholic sufferers of C.D. must be vigilant. Wheat contains gluten and is a required ingredient in the wafers used for certain religious ceremonies.
The legal definition of the phrase ‘gluten-free’ varies from country to country:
Current research suggests that for persons suffering from C.D. the maximum safe level of gluten in a finished product is probably less than 0.02% (200 parts per million) and possibly as little as 0.002% (20 parts per million).
Therefore C.D. sufferers must be wary when travelling out of their own country.
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT WHEAT ALLERGY AND GLUTEN ALLERGY ARE NOT THE SAME THING.
LAST WORDGluten intolerance is not a ‘new age’ fad. It is a very real condition.