Understanding Gluten: How It Works and When Should You Go Gluten-Free

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Gluten is a general term that is used to describe the proteins that are found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale, a cross between rye and wheat. Gluten is the primary component in foods that help maintain their shape. Basically, this acts as a glue which holds the food together. This is found in various types of food.

This is a group of two proteins known as glutenin and gliadin. These two proteins are bonded to form a network. This network provides the structure and function to batters and doughs.

Gluten gives dough elasticity and plasticity, which make baked goods unique and amazing. Elasticity refers to an object’s ability to retain its shape while plasticity refers to the ability to be molded.

How Does It Happen?

When water is added to flour, gliadin and glutenin, move freely and form bonds with the other molecules. When this bond occurs, a network of protein or gluten is formed.

When you stir or knead the dough or batter, you can create more bonds and strengthen the network of proteins. The way you stir and work the dough or batter will matter in the formation of gluten. In addition to the process of stirring, the type of flour that you are using also matters in the formation of gluten. Thus, it is important to take note of the flour type you use when baking.

Some types of baked goods require lots of gluten, like pizza dough and bread. However, there are other types of baked goods that require minimal gluten formation like muffins and cakes.

Pizza Versus Cake: How Gluten Works in Baked Goods

Kneading causes a large network of gluten to form. This network creates a strong and expandable structure that holds lots of air during rising. When baked, the end product is strong enough to hold extra toppings or other contents without falling apart.

On the other hand, when it comes to baking muffins and cakes, the goal is to ensure tenderness of the end product. The batter must be stirred enough to moisten all the ingredients. Processing the batter so little actually limits the ability of the gluten to form. A weaker network of gluten gives enough structure for the cake to hold its shape. The finished product is tenderer.

Gluten-Free Products and Celiac Disease

Gluten-free products are becoming more common in groceries and health food stores. This is great for those people who are diagnosed with Celiac disease, as they are not able to tolerate gluten in their system.

Celiac disease is a condition caused by an abnormal response to gluten. When this occurs, the lining of the small intestines becomes damaged, preventing important nutrients from being absorbed into the body.

The symptoms of this condition include anemia, diarrhea, bone pain and severe skin rashes, known as dermatitis herpetiformis. However, in most cases, the condition goes undetected. In fact, only about 10 percent of cases are diagnosed in the United States.

If you suspect that you have gluten sensitivity, you should get yourself tested. This way, proper treatment and management of the condition can be started. Moreover, you will be able to determine whether you need to have a gluten-free dietary regimen.

While a gluten-free diet is essential for those who are diagnosed with this condition, this is not the same case with people who do not have the condition. However, there are still a lot of people who follow a gluten-free dietary regimen, as they perceive it as a healthier dietary option.

A gluten-free diet can lack essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. While gluten is primarily found in barley, rye and wheat, this can also be found in many whole grain foods. Gluten does not offer any special nutritional benefits. However, many whole grains that contain gluten have nutritional benefits. For instance, eating whole grain foods lowers the risk of heart disease, some types of cancer and type 2 diabetes mellitus. According to dietary guidelines, carbohydrates in the diet should mostly come from whole grain products.

What Are the Risks of Going Gluten Free?

Since wheat is a common part of many people’s diet, eliminating it will require adopting a new dietary regimen. When you eliminate whole categories of food that you used to eat, you are at risk of developing nutritional deficiencies.

Gluten-free foods tend to have low amounts of nutrients like magnesium, B vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium, and fiber. For this reason, there is no point in taking the risk unless you need to or that you are diagnosed with celiac disease.

People who are diagnosed with celiac disease should not eliminate only some types of gluten containing foods. It is important to take note that even trace amounts of gluten can already cause damage to the small intestines.

Choosing gluten-free foods even if you do not need to has another drawback. Gluten-free foods are more expensive. You need to spend more if you want to adhere to a gluten-free diet.

Choosing Smart and Healthy Foods on Gluten-Free Diet

If you are diagnosed with Celiac disease, you should follow a gluten-free diet. With the wide array of gluten-free products available in the market these days, it has become easier for people with Celiac disease to eat healthily.

However, most of the gluten-free products that are available in stores are not healthy. For this reason, it is important to choose wisely the foods that you eat.

Some gluten-free foods are high in cholesterol or saturated fats. Also, other gluten-free foods are high in calories but low in nutritional benefits.

If you have to adhere to a gluten-free diet, you should always consider natural foods that do not contain gluten. You should eat more fruits and vegetables. In addition, you should eat more lean meats and fish. Low-fat dairy products are also safe for those people who are diagnosed with Celiac disease. It is also healthy to go for grains that do not contain gluten like amaranth and quinoa. You can even find cereals and pastas that are made from such grains.


  1. https://celiac.org/live-gluten-free/glutenfreediet/what-is-gluten/
  2. http://www.webmd.com/diet/healthy-kitchen-11/truth-about-gluten
  3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amanda-greene/understanding-gluten_b_2832252.html

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