What is gluten?…
A non-medical (but highly informed), ‘practical’ opinion of a mom and a baker.
Gluten-rich flours are sold throughout the United States for use in commercial food establishments. That high-gluten flour has within it concentrated gluten levels, making it more elastic and forgiving–think of the pizza baker throwing pizza crusts. The high gluten content helps the yeasty flavor linger; it’s what gives baked goods, especially breads, that resistant, yet yielding haptic quality, creating a unique mouth-feel. Gluten creates a degree of viscosity that helps keep products moist and pliable. However, if the gluten can’t be digested, no degree of pleasant texture or flavor is going to deliver the nutrients to your body. That’s why more cases of intolerance are occurring more now than ever, in my opinion.
There are a myriad of reasons to be gluten-free. If you have Celiac disease it’s a clear-cut decision. Celiac Disease is an auto immune condition specific to gluten proteins. The immune system sees gluten proteins as an intruder, and its response is to engage in attacking that intruder. Long story short, your body attacks itself. This is a dangerous condition which is linked to other auto immune issues. If you think you have Celiac disease, please consult a doctor.
Celiac’s is not the only reason to avoid gluten; gluten intolerance is a growing concern within our population, and there are gluten-free diets which are not based on medical need, but rather that of a wellness perspective. Why? Check this out…. (see more below.)
Ingesting gluten has been linked to:
Is gluten bad for everyone?
I would not presume to judge anyone’s food choices… but I know many people – and I do mean many – that have improved their quality of life from going gluten-free. The opportunity of relief from so many varied conditions leads me to wonder: what would prevent a person from at least trying a gluten-free diet? For a week… maybe two? Consider it an investment in your future.
A little more information about gluten…
“Gluten” is a term which refers to at least two proteins– gliadin and glutenin– found in the mature grains, wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten proteins are very long chains of amino acids; to ‘discover’ the nutrients and energy in gluten (or any food) your body breaks down the amino acids into short manageable sequences of petides, or, proteins.
With Celiac disease, your body sees this long protein chain as an abnormal intruder, and attacks the intestinal tissue, the villi, which works to break down the protein and absorb nutrition. This attack is an example of an auto immune condition.
Gluten intolerance occurs when these villi become damaged from gluten proteins and become unable to absorb nutrition. Gluten intolerance is not an auto immune condition, but it is a health issue.
If your body is challenged to break down these long proteins or it does not recognize the gluten protein as beneficial, it won’t recover the nutrients in the foods. The problem is at least twofold: 1. you are not getting full nutrition from the foods you are ingesting, and 2. your intestinal system is taxed.
This has been noted on Organic Lifestyle Magazine. Quote: “A gluten sensitive individual will constantly be triggering their adrenals to pump out stress hormones every time they consume gluten. The immune system has to crank up and go into hyper-inflammatory mode, which utilizes a lot of vital resources as well. This taxes the body of raw materials and sets it up for adrenal exhaustion and chronic fatigue.
By eating an anti-inflammatory diet that takes out food borne stressors like gluten, genetically modified foods, sugary foods, and pasteurized dairy, you allow the adrenals to come down. This results in better sleep, more energy, and improved stress and emotional balance.” http://www.organiclifestylemagazine.com/how-gluten-can-affect-your-brain-gut-and-skin/
Gluten Intolerance What is it?
In short: the inability of your body to digest, or break down food and gather nutrition from the long-chain proteins in gluten.
People who are gluten intolerant are often not supported as having a ‘real’ medical condition, yet this is a condition which involves intestinal challenges, lack of nutrients, and numerous, seemingly unassociated symptoms. (See Ingesting Gluten Has Been Linked To…)
Those that suffer from gluten intolerance can feel as if a meal hasn’t been as filling as it should be, because while their intestines may be full, their bodies aren’t receiving the nutrition it requires.
GLUTEN FREE FOODS ARE NOT ALL HEALTHY, yup that’s right. I said it.
Concerns with a gluten free diet
There are some important things to think about when you take gluten out of your diet (i.e. pitfalls to avoid). Different manufacturers have differing motivations for providing gluten-free products. Just because something is labeled as “gluten-free” does not mean it is inherently ‘healthy’. There is a growing market for cheaply produced gluten-free ingredients and additives. Right now there are almost 400 approved food additives in the United States, and the number of gluten-free examples is increasing steadily. Most of the food products in the United States are sold by weight, and gluten is heavy… many manufacturers substitute a variety of fillers for the absence of ‘gluten’ weight, or volume, in their products. Here are some guidelines to follow:
AVOID White Rice flour
Trust me on this one. If you try to remove gluten from your diet and use products that contain a significant amount of white rice flour, you are dooming your efforts. The flour is inexpensive, therefore the prices may be attractive, but white rice flour has very little nutritional value, and zero fiber; what it does have is a gritty texture. Remember the textures that gluten lends: elasticity, cohesion, water absorption (for light and flaky or chewy and doughy); white rice flour has none of these.
AARGH. What flour do I use?
As the multiple properties of gluten are lost to gluten-free bakers, we mix different gluten-free flours in specific proportions to mimic the textures we seek. Having done this for some 15 years, my experience leads me to believe that mixing gluten-free flours for specific products is 90% luck, 5% chemistry, and 5% total adventure. No single gluten-free ingredient will make a perfect gluten substitute. Sorry, but that’s the truth.
Our approach is to blend six flours together for our in-house flour mix. It may seem like a lot of work, but each gluten-free flour has its own unique texture and water absorption rate. We do not have long-grain white rice flour in our mix. We use brown rice (to increase magnesium content), sorghum (to bump up the protein), tapioca and sweet rice (also known as mochiko, for pliability), potato starch (for lightness), and arrowroot (for absorption). And that’s just our base blend.
We also add a variety of flours in the products we bake: teff (for protein), amaranth or quinoa (for amino acids), millet (to add a little color), and buckwheat (for depth of flavor).