The “gluten-free” label on packages and the endless references to the anti-gluten diet make many people perceive the name of this substance as something scary. But is gluten as bad as it seems? And is it necessary to give it up?
What is gluten?
Gluten, also called gluten, is an elastic protein extracted from the grains of most cereal crops. It is what gives the grains their nutrients as they grow. Subsequently separated from the starch, gluten provides the stickiness of the finished dough and holds the desired shape of the baked goods. The taste of foods is also largely due to the presence of this protein. Gluten also acts as a preservative, keeping bread and other products from going mouldy for long periods. It is a completely natural substance: only the method of its extraction from grain flour is artificial.
What is the harm of gluten?
This seemingly perfectly constructive protein can indeed cause harm to a certain category of people. Those affected have a rare genetic disorder, known as celiac disease or gluten intolerance. As a result of a predisposition, the immune system perceives gluten as a harmful substance. When food is ingested, the villi of the small intestine are disturbed, which in turn halts metabolic processes. The body stops absorbing the nutrients and water that come with food, thus provoking many diseases.
According to generally accepted statistics, approximately 1% of the world’s population suffers from this disease. There may also be individual cases of gluten allergy with a classic clinical picture. For the vast majority of consumers who do not belong to these categories, gluten is completely harmless.
Myths about Gluten
Giving up gluten is good for your health.
For people suffering from celiac disease, definitely. For the rest of us it is not only not healthy, but very dangerous. Gluten is a nutrient for plant germs – a fact that already shows the abundance of useful compounds. The protein contains vitamins, valuable amino acids, calcium, iron and other elements essential for health. By rejecting gluten, you unreasonably deprive your body of the necessary substances. And yourself – pleasure, because baked goods devoid of this component are far from as tasty.
A gluten-free diet is a good way to lose weight.
The effectiveness of this method is extremely low. Gluten is high in protein and low in fat and carbohydrates. The caloric value of the substance is also low – 370 kcal per 100 grams. So weight loss is more likely to be promoted by its consumption than by its absence. In addition, the products with which dieters are trying to replace gluten are often much higher in sugar, fat and other harmful ingredients. These are added to improve the flavor, which declines rapidly as gluten disappears. Don’t be surprised if you gain extra pounds instead of the desired change.
Frequent consumption of foods with gluten can provoke celiac disease.
Celiac disease is a genetic disease that is not transmitted virally or in any other way. You cannot catch it from another person, or by eating gluten. Unless you are born with the rare disease, you are not at risk of this pathology. Gluten does not cause any other diseases, either. On the contrary, it is believed that consumption of cereals reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes.
What foods contain gluten?
The largest part (about 80%) of the protein contains wheat, a little less – rye, oats and barley. Accordingly, gluten is present in all cereal-based foods:
- Pastry products;
- Baked goods;
In addition, the substance is often used as a “binding” element in the production of products not originally related to cereals. Gluten is added to ketchup, mayonnaise and other sauces, powdered and condensed milk, cottage cheese and curd products, margarine, cheeses, yogurts. Protein is also used in the manufacture of certain cosmetics, such as powder and lipstick. Even people with gluten intolerance are allowed to use cosmetic products, because the substance is harmful only when consumed internally.
If you need to protect yourself from gluten, you can safely consume the following foods:
Cereals (buckwheat, rice, corn, lentils, soybeans, etc.);
- Legumes, nuts;
- Milk, eggs, meat products;
- Fish and seafood;
- Natural fruits and vegetables;
- Vegetable and butter products.
Also, look for the words “plant protein” on the package, as they often hide gluten. For those suffering from celiac disease it is better to buy special strips that allow you to test any product for the presence of vegetable starch.
Celiac disease is very difficult to diagnose: it tends to masquerade as a variety of other diseases. Symptoms often manifest themselves in early childhood, but the diagnosis may be made much later.
Because of intestinal dysfunction, diarrhea becomes the main symptom. The inability to absorb leads to other negative consequences. In children, the disease may manifest itself in the form of developmental delays, coordination disorders, fine motor skills. Because of the lack of calcium and other valuable elements disturbed teeth, nails, hair, frequent fractures are possible. Outwardly there is severe bloating of the abdomen with a lack of weight in general.
In adults, celiac disease is primarily characterized by a depressed psychological state, insomnia, fatigue and anxiety. Many patients suffer from anemia due to poor digestion. Women may experience reproductive and sexual problems, and disorders of the cycle.
How to treat?
Unfortunately, drugs that can get rid of the pathology, does not yet exist. The only way to get rid of the disease is to follow a diet that doesn’t contain gluten. Patients will be able to fully recover after just a few months of strict adherence to the diet. Their way of life in the future will not differ from that of other people.
The doctor may also prescribe hormones, replenishment of missing substances in the body (for example, iron and folic acid in anemia).
Where to turn?
A modern way to diagnose the disease is a special blood test, as well as a biopsy of the small intestine. In Moscow celiac disease can be diagnosed at the N. I. Mechnikov Research Institute of Vaccines and Sera, and in St. Petersburg – at the Medical Genetics Center.
The diet excludes all foods containing gluten. It includes not only cereals and derivatives, but also ice cream, canned foods, cocoa, coffee, sausages, convenience foods and other products in the production of which protein is involved. There are specialized stores that produce adapted products without protein. Such products are marked with a special sign: a crossed out spike. Gluten-free flour is made from rice, corn, potatoes and other safe crops.
Dieticians are extremely ambivalent about the gluten-free diet used for weight loss. In itself, such a diet is safe, but the absence of cereals in the menu leads to a lack of valuable substances in the body. Their replenishment requires constant intake of vitamin preparations. Experts recommend excluding gluten partially and observe the subsequent changes. In the absence of clear results, it is better to return cereals to the diet and choose a more effective type of diet.
In summary, we can say that the myths about the scary protein have not much basis in fact. If you fear for your health, get a blood test and make sure you have no gluten intolerance. Then you will have no reason to deprive yourself of gastronomic pleasures.