What is Gluten?
Gluten is a special type of protein that is commonly found in rye, wheat, oats and barley. Therefore, it is found in most types of cereals and in many types of bread. Not all foods from the grain family, however, contain gluten. Examples of grains that do not have gluten include wild rice, corn, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, quinoa, soybeans, and sunflower seeds.
Gluten provides many important qualities to bread. As well as having an absorbent quality, it contains the gases that are released during fermentation of the dough, so the bread is able to rise before it is baked. In addition, gluten firms up when it is cooked and with the help of starch, ensures the bread maintains its proper shape.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that occurs in genetically predisposed people of all ages. Symptoms include chronic diarrhoea, weight loss, fatigue, iron and folic acid deficiency. Coeliac disease is caused by a reaction to gliadin, a gluten protein found in wheat and similar proteins found in the crops of grasses (which includes other grains such as barley and rye). Upon exposure to gliadin, the enzyme modifies the protein and the immune system cross-reacts with the small-bowel tissue, causing an inflammatory reaction that leads to a “shortening” of the villi lining the small intestine. This interferes with the absorption of nutrients, as the intestinal villi are responsible for absorption. The only known effective treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet. While the disease is caused by a reaction to wheat proteins, it is not the same as wheat allergy.
FOOD LABELING AND GLUTEN
The Australian Standard of Gluten-free foods now requires that foods labelled as “Gluten free” contain no detectable gluten using a sensitive assay. There is no evidence that inclusion of extracted ingredients causes mucosal damage although some patients with Coeliac disease may prefer not to eat products which contain these extracted ingredients. The Coeliac Society of Australia has changed the category of these products in their ingredient list including glucose syrup, dextrose and caramel colouring. Under the new standard, it will require careful reading of ingredients on products labelled as gluten free if Coeliacs choose to avoid these foods.
Foods may also contain less obvious sources of gluten as there is no requirement for manufacturers to specify the composition of ingredients that contribute less than 10% of a food. For example, it may be difficult to determine the origin of a soy sauce included as an ingredient in a commercial marinade. This means that gluten may be “carried over” into the marinade via the soy sauce. It is best to contact the manufacturer directly to determine the source of these ingredients.
It is essential that all food labels be rechecked regularly since the composition may change. Avoid any food that is doubtful.
1. Read labels well and watch for hidden sources of gluten.
2. Include a wide variety of gluten free cereals.
3. Always check that medications and vitamins are Gluten-free.
“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart”