"Excuse me? Is this Gluten-Free?" asks the millionth customer at the ordering counter.
By now most restauranteurs, food makers and even big-brand food companies have not only gotten used to this question but have begun to cater exclusively to this section of the market.
In fact the United States Gluten-Free Food Products Market is expected to be more than 18 Billion USD by the end of the year 2025!*
WHAT IS GLUTEN, REALLY?
Sometimes "The Big Bad Wolf" becomes scarier and more menacing as the lore of its "badness" spreads and grows. Call it "crowd panic". Gluten is not something new. It is not something invented by the "Big Bad Food Industry". It is a naturally occurring family of proteins found in grains since...always. Nature invented it!
The two main proteins in gluten are glutenin and gliadin. Gliadin is responsible for most of the negative health effects, should one have any.
When a flour is mixed with water, gluten proteins begin to form and become almost glue like. This "glue" is what gives that satisfying chewy texture to baked products. It makes the dough elastic and gives breads the ability to rise as they bake.
SO WHY IS GLUTEN SO BAD?
It's not! It's really not...not for most people at least. In fact only about 0.7-1% of the worlds population is Celiac (more on this later). In the US about 1 every 133 people suffer from this condition. It is a lot of people, all in all, but it is not the majority to say the least.
Twenty years ago nobody really talked about gluten. With the rise of research on Celiac Disease in the USA in the 1990s, Gluten-Free options were demanded and put in place for the people who truly needed to avoid this naturally occurring family of proteins.
However; be it some nutritionists, some cookbook authors, but most importantly, some trendy celebrity, at the time, mentioning or beginning to accuse poor 'ol Gluten of being an evil, gut-wrecking and overall nemesis for all people trying to get/stay skinny and the proverbial ax began to drop.
Long lost were the days where you could happily butter a nice warm croissant and enjoy a well earned coffee. "There's Gluten in that! How dare you?"
WHEN IS GLUTEN ACTUALLY BAD?
There actually are medically proven cases where Gluten is bad for some. This is treated the same as someone with a deadly peanut allergy. You be careful to stay away from the substance.
In fact some people may have an actual Gluten Allergy, but it isn't your horoscope of the latest fad diet on Instagram that will determine if you are actually allergic to Gluten. You need to get tested by a medical professional as you would with any other type of allergy.
There is the afore mentioned Celiac Disease. This diseases is a chronic digestive disorder resulting from an immune reaction to the gluten protein "gliadin". It involves inflammation and the destruction of the inner lining of the small intestine which can lead to malabsorption of minerals and nutrients and therefore severely malnourish and cause various problems to the organism suffering from this disease.
This can only be tested for and confirmed by a licensed Doctor and unfortunately there is no cure. The only treatment is a 100% gluten-free diet. That's a good reason to be gluten free. Not because your favorite singer just shed "her last few pounds" by kicking Gluten out of the picture.
There are people who, although testing negative for Celiac or factual Gluten Allergies, do react badly, in varying degrees, to Gluten. However; no medical testing has proven a factual reason for this (as of now). It might be a case of "idea contagion" or, most likely, it is not Gluten giving problems but something else in what the person is consuming that happens to have gluten.
WHAT FOODS ARE HIGH IN GLUTEN?
The most common sources of gluten in foods are:
- Cakes, Cookies, Pastries and baked goods
WHAT GRAINS DO NOT CONTAIN GLUTEN?
These are some of the grains you can find without gluten (however always read the label to be sure)
IS LIVING "GLUTEN-FREE" DANGEROUS?
According to Medical News Today;
"Following a gluten-free diet in the absence of celiac disease may be detrimental to health.
Nutritional deficiences: Avoiding foods that contain gluten can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients, including iron, calcium, fiber, folate, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin.
Whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, contain important nutrients."
You can make sure to get these nutrients elsewhere from other foods (which is very possible) but there is no reason to deprive yourself of that delicious sourdough bread because you think Gluten will hurt you.
What about you? Do you blame Gluten for any physical issues? Or do you enjoy it, in moderation, just like any other food?
Let us know in the comments section below!
*according to Research And Markets.