Gluten is a word that’s often heard in connection with diets these days. But what exactly is it?
Essentially, gluten is the name of the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It’s the protein that binds these foodstuffs together, like glue, and helps it keep its shape. People who follow a gluten-free diet are typically intolerant of gluten, and find that avoiding the protein in their food intake improves their health and digestion. Although anyone can choose to lead a gluten-free diet, people with gluten intolerance suffer from coeliac disease, where ingestion of gluten can damage the small intestine.
Which foods contain gluten?
Gluten-containing foods are among the most common carbohydrates in our diet. Pasta, noodles, bread, pastry, cereal, cakes, biscuits and pancakes are all common sources of gluten. Following a gluten free diet also means avoiding foods that are made with gluten-containing ingredients: stuffing and breaded foods, for instance, as well as sauces which may have been thickened with flour and oats that have been grown or processed alongside wheat.
Surprisingly to many, beers, ales, lagers and malt beverages (including malt vinegar) also contain gluten. That’s because gluten is present in brewer’s yeast. Wine and most distilled drinks, however, do not contain gluten.
Following a gluten-free diet
So if you’re opting for a gluten-free diet, what exactly can you eat? The good news is that fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy products, beans and nuts can all still be part of your diet. You’ll also get to choose from lots of gluten free grains, including rice, maize, soy, quinoa, millet and buckwheat. And of course, you can still eat potatoes to fill that carb-shaped hole that bread used to occupy.
However, if you’re still craving your daily slice of toast, Jamie Oliver has a great gluten free bread recipe that uses gluten free flour, as does Doves Farm and BakingMad.com. You can also find ready-to-buy gluten free bread and pastries in supermarkets too: Genius are specialists at gluten-free bread, and Sainsbury’s also has its own Free From gluten range.
Reading more about gluten
The popularity of gluten-free diets means that it’s being dissected with careful scrutiny in many news outlets. For more in-depth articles on gluten and the trend of going gluten-free, we’d recommend a read of The New York Times’ 2011 piece, ‘Should we all go gluten free?‘ and, for a more cynical take, The Telegraph’s 2013 article, ‘The great gluten-free scam‘.
Have you ever tried going gluten-free?