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Sunday 22 April 2018
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What is gluten and where will you find it?

by Richard Cawte

Tales from a Gluten-Intolerant Coeliac – Part 2.

glutenfree shopping

Shopping in a supermarket is not my idea of fun at the best of times. As someone who is both a coeliac and gluten-intolerant, it’s even less so. Instead of scooching down the aisles happily lobbing goodies into my trolley without a care in the world, I spend a lot of time examining labels. Now in my fiftieth year, reading the eeny-teeny print is itself a challenge, but it’s worth doing, because it’s amazing how many products you might assume are gluten-free aren’t.

Many tinned, packeted or other processed foods have gluten in them, which is just one of the reasons for choosing natural products instead. On top of that, the current definition of gluten is flawed and the so-called “gluten-free” section can be stocked with products that contain gluten, even when they say they don’t.

So what exactly IS Gluten and where will you find it?

what is glutenThere’s a commonly held misconception that gluten is only present in wheat, rye, barley and spelt. For instance, the definition on Wikipedia says:

Gluten (from Latin gluten, “glue”) is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley, rye, and spelt. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture.

This definition is a hang-over from 60 years ago when scientists in Germany were studying reactions in young men during the second world war. The grains most commonly consumed in that area were the ones mentioned and for some reason no one has updated the definition of gluten, despite plenty of research, since.

In actual fact, gluten is present to some degree in ALL grains, not just wheat, barley, rye and spelt. This is important for those of you showing symptoms such as Irritable Bowel, Leaky Gut, Acid Reflux, Eczema, Asthma and so on because if you continue to eat other grains you may be increasing the severity of your symptoms.

Here’s a wider definition of gluten that will help you when you’re browsing the supermarket shelves:

 Gluten is a mixture of proteins found in all grains. 

Yes, that’s all grains.

Gluten is actually made up of two subfractions called prolamines and glutelins, both of which are found in the endosperm of the seeds of grains. It’s the protein-mix the seed needs in order to grow into a plant the following year. There are thousands of proteins and many types of prolamine, as you can see from the table below:

Grain                                Prolamine                        Percentage of Total Protein
Wheat Gliadin 69
Rye Secalanin 30-50
Barley Hordein 46-50
Oats Avenin 16
Millet Panicin 40
Corn Zein 55
Rice Orzirin 5
Sorgum Kafirin 52

As you can see from this table, gluten-based proteins are found in all the grain types listed, the highest amounts being found in wheat, barley, sorgum and rye – but there are still significant amounts in the others.

Check out this video below from Dr Peter Osborne which goes into this in more depth:

So what is the solution?

Personally, I try to steer clear of all grains. If I have anything it will be rice (I do love a good curry or a stir fry with rice noodles) but I’ve found as I get older that even rice makes me feel both bloated and tired. My preference is to eat fruit and vegetables with the occasional piece of fish or meat.

Of course I fall off the wagon from time to time, not least because one of my daughters is a great cook and just loves to bake – can anyone resist the smell of fresh cakes wafting from the kitchen? She only uses “gluten-free” flours, but I know there will be a price to pay the next day.

Life without grains may sound completely alien to a lot of you, but it’s not so hard – and the rewards are worth the effort.

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