What are gluten and what are they in?
Gluten is a collective term for a specific type of protein that can be found in grains. There are two different types: glutenins and gliadins. The gliadins are the main cause of any complaints when eating them.
Gluten is increasingly being cited as major culprits for our health. Gluten intolerance seems like a scourge: it is now estimated that 1 in 100 people suffer from it! And even without intolerance, they can cause problems. The demand for gluten-free products has therefore risen sharply. However, eating completely gluten-free is not that easy because gluten can be found in many foods. What exactly are gluten? And what contains gluten?
What does gluten contain?
Gluten is therefore in all grains that belong to the grass family. But each grain contains a different amount and a different ratio between the glutenins and the gliadins. Wheat, for example, contains a lot of gliadins. It is therefore the best-known grain that many people try to avoid.
However, because gluten gives elasticity and firmness to the dough, they are very popular in the preparation of bread, pasta and pastries. And because wheat contains the largest amount, this is, unfortunately, the most used grain.
Just take a look at the packaging of pasta or pastries and you can be almost certain that it contains wheat as the main ingredient. In addition, wheat is also added in smaller amounts to almost all processed foods on store shelves.
Besides wheat, there are also other grains that contain gluten to a greater or lesser extent.
- Grains with a lot of gluten are: wheat, spelled, Kamut and bulgur.
- Cereals with less (harmful) gluten are: teff, oatmeal and corn.
- Grains or similar without gluten are: amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa and rice.
What is gluten intolerance?
People with gluten intolerance (celiac disease) have difficulty digesting this protein. The immune system reacts violently to this with an autoimmune reaction in which the small intestine becomes inflamed and damaged.
Due to the damage to the intestine, nutrients such as iron, calcium and vitamin D are less well absorbed. As a result, symptoms such as anemia, fatigue, osteoporosis, infertility and depression occur.
Long-term damage to the intestinal wall can lead to leaky gut syndrome or “leaky gut”. In this process, all kinds of substances escape from the intestine which then unintentionally enter the body. These are, for example, incompletely digested food residues, toxins and bacteria. These harmful substances disrupt all kinds of bodily processes and burden the immune system, the liver and even the brain.
What is gluten sensitivity?
It is also possible that you are sensitive to gluten without being really intolerant to it. The difference is that in the event of an intolerance your immune system will produce antibodies that you can measure in the blood.
With gluten sensitivity, you cannot measure anything in the blood, but the complaints are clearly present. The intestinal villi are not as affected as with intolerance, but temporary permeability of the intestine is also possible here. Only a few years ago, this condition was recognized as a real disease under the name of non-celiac gluten disease.
Should I Avoid Gluten?
For people with celiac disease, the advice is straightforward: avoid gluten completely. Any contact with this specific protein causes damage to the intestine. Only after complete abstinence can the bowel start to recover. But even after a full recovery, celiac patients will have to eat gluten-free for life.
People with gluten sensitivity do not have to ban gluten completely. The most important thing is to listen to your own body as the severity of the symptoms can be different.
The most common symptoms are digestive complaints, a bloated stomach or diarrhea. In the longer term, the inflammation also manifests itself elsewhere in the body with complaints such as inflammation in the skin (psoriasis), in the joints (arthritis), airways (asthma, allergies) and brain (brain fog).
The good news is that the symptoms can diminish and disappear in a few days to a few weeks due to the adjustment in your diet. And for example, someone who is “only” sensitive can go through life happily and healthily by avoiding wheat bread and pastries, but eating oatmeal and rye.
How to eat less gluten?
Wheat is very cheap and the elasticity, shelf life and lightness of gluten has ensured that it can be found in almost all processed foods. Not only in pasta such as bread and pasta, but also in soup and sauces.
The simplest and most effective way to eat less of it is with a healthy nutritional schedule. When you focus on self-prepared unprocessed food, you avoid most of it. If you don’t have celiac disease, this is usually good enough.
How to replace gluten?
With a few simple adjustments you can easily find an alternative for certain foods:
- Instead of wheat bread you can take spelled bread, which is easily available nowadays. Spelled is often more digestible than wheat, but it still contains gluten. A second option is to look for traditional sourdough bread. This bread does not contain yeast and due to the long rising process, the gluten is largely broken down. The best option is to take sourdough bread from grains such as buckwheat or amaranth.
- Easy alternatives to pasta are rice and (sweet) potatoes. But nowadays you can also find pasta on the store shelves that is made from lentils or chickpeas, for example.
A gluten-free diet
If you are dealing with intolerance, you will have to avoid gluten completely. Also those who are sensitive often feel best when he or she scraps everything.