What is Gluten?

Going to virtually any grocery story includes seeing the same sign somewhere, in dozens of variations and next to plenty of different food stuffs. Gluten-free. Odds remain good you’ve had friends serve you snacks or such with that label proudly afixed to many a food product. But, and this seems like an obvious question really, what is gluten?

As it happens, the answer is anything but mysterious. More, it probably has very close to zero impact upon your life.

Gluten molecule
Gluten molecule

Quite simply, gluten is a protein composite found in different grains such as wheat, rye and barley. The substance is very common, quite natural and causes the vast majority of human beings absolutely no harm whatsoever. Since it is a protein, many food manufacturers in fact remove gluten from grains and add them as a supplement for relatively low-protein foods. More, gluten tends to promote elasticity to dough so is used to help create certain textures.

Technically, gluten consists of two different proteins named gliadin and glutenin. Held together with starch, they form a natural part of grains that are included in the general family of grasses. Other grains, such as rice, contain something very similar.

So why all the fuss? Because some people exhibit gluten intolerance, nearly always as a side effect of celiac disease.  This is an autoimmune disorder centered around the small intestines. You cannot “catch” it because the condition is genetic in nature.  But the results are unpleasant, since the disease causes a reaction within the intestines which results in inflammation (the exact details are slightly complex and involve some very technical terms). No fun. No fun at all–although most adults only suffer mild fatique, anemia and/or soft stools as a result.

Gluten grains
Gluten grains

However, some people do exhibit a deleterious reaction to gluten sans any signs of celiac disease. How many? Perhaps as many as five percent of the population. At one in twenty, this means millions of people in the United States might well suffer some kind of adverse reaction to gluten.  These individuals should be careful, for example, of any imitation meats because gluten is used to supplement the protein content. Likewise both soy sauce and beers usually contain some, as so some cosmetics as well as some animal feed. More, gluten often ends up in virtually all commercially available breads (unless of course labelled otherwise).

If you have neither condition, on the other hand, you need not worry in the slightest.


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