Gluten has become a hot topic in recent years, as more and more people look to eliminate this substance from their diet. This is due in part to the rising rates of celiac disease — an autoimmune disorder that’s characterized by an attack on the small intestines after consuming foods or beverages containing gluten. With some estimates suggesting that upwards of 1% of the entire population has the disease, and many others suffer from less severe gluten intolerance and/or sensitivity, more people are embarking on gluten-free diets to protect themselves against the adverse health effects of this substance. But what exactly is gluten? And do you really need to avoid it?
Gluten Is Found In Wheat
In the most basic sense, gluten is a type of protein that’s found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt and related grains. It’s commonly used in baked goods and other food products due to its elastic properties. Gluten is incredibly sticky, allowing to act as a binding agent when used various foods and dishes. This also creates a chewy texture that’s preferred for some types of foods. Individuals who wish to embark on a gluten-free diet, must use extra caution to avoid any foods, beverages and condiments that contain grains.
How Is Gluten Made?
Gluten is produced by kneading wheat flour until the protein is released, at which point the starch is washed out and left to dry. It’s crucial that the starch and gluten are separated during this process; otherwise, the gluten won’t possess the same sticky characteristics that it’s most known for. After being extracted from wheat flour, gluten is then added to foods and dishes to improve the food’s consistency and texture. Its sticky characteristics make it ideal for use in baked goods, as it holds dough together while helping it rise in the process. Granted, there are other alternative ingredients available to mimic these characteristics, but gluten remains the preferred choice among bakers and food manufacturers.
Watch The Sugar and Fat
If you’re going to opt for a gluten-free diet, choose foods with low sugar and saturated fat. Without gluten to hold food together, companies often use a sugar and fat as a binding substitute. Read the nutrition labels to ensure that any foods you consume are low in both of these ingredients, as they offer no nutritional value to your diet.