What is gluten and can it be a part of a healthy diet?

Have you ever wondered what gluten is and what role it plays in our diet? Nowadays, we hear more and more about gluten-free diets and their impact on health.

In this article, we will take a closer look at gluten, its sources, and the consequences of consuming it, as well as discuss whether it can be a part of a healthy diet.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a mixture of proteins that naturally occur in some grains, mainly in wheat, barley, and rye. It plays a vital role in the baking process, giving the dough elastic and sticky properties. Thanks to gluten, the dough can stretch while still maintaining its structure and shape, which is crucial in producing various types of bread and pastries.

In a nutritional context, gluten plays an important role due to its structural properties. It forms a protein network that can trap air during baking, making bread fluffy and elastic. Gluten also helps to retain moisture in baked goods, allowing them to stay fresh and tasty for longer.

Due to these properties, gluten is valuable in bakery and food industry. It is an essential ingredient in the production of most traditional bread, pastries, pasta, and many other grain products. Its ability to create a flexible and durable protein network makes it indispensable in achieving the optimal texture of these products.

Why do some people avoid gluten?

Some people have to avoid gluten because of celiac disease, which is an autoimmune condition triggered by this very component. Those suffering from celiac disease experience damage to the mucous membrane of the small intestine, which directly affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. Contact with gluten triggers an immune reaction in their case, which can lead to many health complications, including nutritional deficiencies and digestive issues.

There is also a condition known as gluten intolerance, sometimes referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. People with gluten intolerance do not have gluten-induced damage to their intestines, but consuming gluten can cause various unpleasant symptoms. These include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, bloating, as well as fatigue and headaches. These symptoms can significantly impact quality of life, which is why people with intolerance often opt for a gluten-free diet.

Avoiding gluten is not necessary for individuals who do not suffer from celiac disease or gluten intolerance. In recent years, a gluten-free diet has become popular among people who do not have medical reasons to eliminate gluten from their diet. However, it is important to note that for most people, gluten is completely safe and does not pose a threat to their health. It is important that any decision to change diet is made consciously and preferably in consultation with a doctor or dietitian.

When does gluten start to become a problem?

Gluten can cause serious side effects in some people. For some, the body treats gluten as a toxin, leading to an excessive immune cell reaction and attacking it. Continuing to consume gluten for sensitive individuals can lead to inflammation.

The side effects range from mild, such as fatigue, bloating, or alternating diarrhoea and constipation, to more serious ones, like unintentional weight loss, malnutrition, or intestinal damage, which is characteristic of celiac disease. It is estimated that a certain percentage of the population worldwide suffers from celiac disease, but many cases remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Coeliac disease is associated with the risk of developing other conditions, such as osteoporosis or calcium and iron deficiency anaemia, as well as infertility, neurological disorders, and in rare cases even cancer. Removing gluten from the diet is crucial in preventing these complications. A gluten-free diet is the main way to treat coeliac disease, but it requires knowledge and attention to ensure that the body receives all the necessary nutrients.

Co to jest gluten

What is gluten and how does it affect the body?

The impact of gluten on the body depends on whether we are sensitive to this ingredient. However, the process of digesting gluten is the same for everyone: after consumption, the body breaks it down into smaller components. One of these components is gliadin, which is not digested by humans. It is this that can cause issues for people sensitive to gluten.

In individuals without sensitivity, gliadin is simply excreted from the body without causing any issues. However, in individuals with celiac disease, gliadin reacts with the enzyme transglutaminase. This reaction triggers an autoimmune response in the body, which can lead to serious health issues.

People with gluten sensitivity, although their immune system is not directly involved, may experience many similar symptoms to those found in celiac disease.

Research shows that coeliac disease can be hereditary, but not always. Scientists are still not sure why some people are sensitive to gluten while others are not. It is a complex issue that is still being studied. It is worth noting that identifying and understanding the causes of gluten sensitivity can help in developing more effective treatment methods and coping strategies for this problem.

The difference between gluten sensitivity and celiac disease.

Coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity are not the same, although they can cause many similar symptoms. In both cases, individuals affected by these issues may experience: diarrhoea, bloating and gas, constipation, vomiting, abdominal pain.

The main difference is that in the case of celiac disease, there is damage to the intestines. This happens because our body mistakenly attacks the lining of the intestines.

If this disease is not treated, it can lead to permanent damage and long-term health problems, including poor absorption of nutrients, weight loss, and even certain types of cancer.

On the bright side, sensitivity to gluten does not cause intestinal damage. In this case, the body simply reacts poorly to gluten. Of course, experiencing these symptoms is still very unpleasant!

Sensitivity to gluten, although not as severe as celiac disease, also requires a special diet and a conscious approach to eating. Avoiding gluten can help alleviate symptoms and improve the quality of life for these individuals.

Can gluten be a part of a healthy diet?

The question of whether gluten can be a part of a healthy diet mainly depends on whether we are sensitive to it.

For those of us who do not have gluten intolerance, consuming it does not cause harm. However, it is worth remembering that gluten is often found in carbohydrate-rich foods. For individuals on a low-carb diet, such as the ketogenic diet, gluten may not be suitable as a main component of the diet.

However, for individuals with sensitivity to gluten or celiac disease, experts recommend completely eliminating gluten from the diet. This is the only way to get rid of problematic symptoms. In the case of celiac disease, completely eliminating gluten from the diet is necessary to prevent dangerous inflammatory conditions and intestinal damage.

How much gluten is “healthy” to consume?

In a typical Western diet, we usually consume around 10-20 grams of gluten per day. If we count on slices of bread, that’s roughly 8.

However, we probably spread our gluten consumption across many different products. And it’s not a problem for those of us who don’t have a gluten intolerance.

As with any food product, it is important to consume gluten-containing foods in moderation. Because gluten-rich products are often unhealthy when consumed in large quantities (such as bread, pasta, etc.), it is wise to use common sense and follow a meal plan for healthy eating to ensure a balanced diet.

The guidelines are different for individuals who have difficulty digesting gluten. In such cases, the FDA recommends consuming less than 20 parts per million of gluten per day (about 10 mg of gluten). For comparison, that’s roughly equivalent to a few breadcrumbs.

What does the “gluten-free” label mean?

If we are trying to eliminate gluten from our diet, it can be difficult to determine whether a product contains gluten added intentionally or if it has been contaminated during processing. That is why many health authorities around the world have introduced regulations regarding the labelling of food as “gluten-free”.

Although these labels can greatly facilitate gluten elimination, they do not mean that gluten is completely absent in the product. In the United States, European Union, and Canada, a product can be labelled as “gluten-free” if the gluten content does not exceed 20 parts per million (ppm). This means that for every million parts of the food product, up to 20 of them may contain gluten.

The threshold of 20 ppm has been set based on some evidence suggesting that most people with gluten-related disorders are unlikely to experience negative reactions at this level. Nevertheless, some countries have chosen to set the limit even lower, at 3 ppm.

Leave a comment