You have probably heard some people say that they have gluten sensitivity and absolutely must eat a gluten free diet. While it is certainly true that some people have Celiac's Disease, which means they cannot eat any gluten, saying that you are 'gluten intolerant' is incredibly fashionable, not in the least because there is an idea out there that eating a gluten free diet is better for your health (this is because it is found in the specialty isles in grocery stores). Before you diagnose yourself and determine that you have to go gluten free, try to learn what is the definition of gluten first, and understand what the pros and cons of this substance are.
What Is the Definition of Gluten?
Essentially, gluten is kind of protein found in the endosperm of cereal grains. Gluten provides nutrition to the embryo of the plant when it germinates, and makes dough more elastic. As such, gluten makes baked products more or less chewy. It actually contains two types of proteins, which are gliadin and glutenin. True gluten is actually only found in wheat, but variations of gluten are found in triticale, rye, and barley.
What you must also understand is that gluten is not found in all grains. For instance, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, brown rice, amaranth, wild rice, corn, quinoa, and teff are all gluten free, as are oats. However, oats can have been contaminated with gluten when they were processed.
Is Gluten Bad?
No, gluten is only bad if you have a true intolerance, something that must be measured through proper scientific tests. People who have a gluten intolerance have a defective gene, which means their bodies produce an immune response whenever they try to digest gluten. It is believed only 18 million people in this country have Celiac disease, far less than the number of people who have determined they have an intolerance and have gone gluten free.
Celiac disease is the best known type of gluten intolerance. Around one in every 141 people suffer from it. If someone with Celiac does consume or even comes into contact with gluten, an immune response is triggered, causing damage to the intestines. As a result of that, they can no longer properly absorb other nutrients either. This is a very serious condition.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a chronic disorder of the gastrointestinal tract, can also be affected by gluten, however. Between 7% and 20% of adults in this country suffer from it. Gluten does not actually cause IBS, but it can cause a flareup. This flareup, however, may involve cramps, constipation, and/or diarrhea, but not damage to the intestines. Most people with IBS also find that it is not the gluten that make them react, but rather any other part of the manufacturing process of commercially available breads.
Now that you know what is the definition of gluten, you may wonder whether you should cut gluten out of your diet. The answer is a resounding no! Gluten has an important role in our overall diet, and unless you have Celiac disease, there is no need to switch to a completely gluten free diet.