Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What is GLUTEN?

“So what is gluten, anyway?” Is often the first question I hear when I have to explain to people that I am gluten and dairy intolerant. September 14, 2010 was the fateful day I learned about my intolerance to both gluten and dairy. I had no idea what gluten was, and all I knew was that I loved dairy. But they were the cause to all my pains, and I knew I had to learn about them and give up.

Over 12.1 million results come up when you search “what is gluten” on Google. Gluten is a hot topic right now; more and more people are getting diagnosed and becoming more educated and aware of the dangers of processed foods.

Gluten is a kind of protein that exists in wheat, barley, and rye among other carbohydrates. While gluten is typically found in wheat and other mainstays in the grain family, it is not synonymous with grain. The reason why it's so difficult to make processed foods without gluten is because gluten is a preservative that holds food together long term. Manufacturers need to put preservatives in processed foods so it lasts throughout the packaging, shipping and storing in the grocery store. No wonder it is difficult for our bodies to process gluten, it's not meant to break apart. However, it's also important to note that gluten alone is not necessarily bad for your health. We'll talk more about how to eat the whole grains your body actually needs (if you're not gluten intolerant). 

So how does gluten show up in your favorite foods?:
BREAD > It is gluten that gives bread the bendy, chewy composition that we are all so familiar with. Bread that has been depleted of gluten tends to revert to a putty-like, sticky glob of goo - as it is gluten which gives it its shape. (Anyone who has ever tried gluten free bread knows that it just tends to crumble).
PIZZA & BAGELS > Gluten is also tough. Because of gluten, certain bread items like pizza dough or bagels have a dense, chewy composition. This is one of the reasons why people with gluten sensitivity have difficulty digesting it and need to stick to gluten free foods.
BAKED GOODS > Another trait of gluten is the fact that it will retain gases in the baking process. Simply put, the bread rises because of gluten. (This is one of the many reasons why gluten free baked goods are becoming a hot commodity - they're hard to come by! I’ll review some of my favorite gluten free bakeries in upcoming posts).

If you're interested in learning more, I recommend this article from Huffington Post: Gluten: What You Don't Know Might Kill You

- Stephanie

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