A group of highly viscous vegetable proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye is commonly called gluten in Russian and gluten in English.
Boiled in spices and shaped into meat-like pieces, the gluten is called seitan.
Thanks to gluten, bread turns out to be airy and porous, and pasta made from durum wheat (there is more gluten in durum) does not dissolve during baking.
In addition to bread and pasta, gluten is found in all wheat, rye or barley products – semolina, couscous, Artek, bulgur, barley porridge, almost all pastries and sweets, in numerous sauces, sausages, and semi-finished meat products.
What can go wrong
Your relationship with gluten can go wrong in three ways.
food allergy. Banal allergy, like a million other products, can be accompanied by a rash, itching, swelling up to Quincke’s edema with suffocation. Diagnosed by the skin test.
Celiac disease. A systemic disease in which the immune mechanisms react incorrectly to incoming gluten and begin to attack their own cells (autoimmune disease).
Symptoms of celiac disease are very diverse – both typical intestinal manifestations (diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, lack of appetite and weight loss) and extraintestinal skin (rash), increased bleeding, anemia, endocrine pathologies (more often also autoimmune-type 1 diabetes, thyroiditis).
With celiac disease, the intestinal epithelium is always damaged, which leads to the appearance of ulcers and, if left untreated, neoplasms. The disease has a mixed nature – genetically determined but manifests itself only with a certain combination of factors.
It is diagnosed by a blood test – for genetic markers or anti-gliadin antibodies. It affects approximately 1% of the population. If you have celiac disease, you’ve probably known it since early childhood.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity. A group of conditions with extremely diverse manifestations that are united by the fact that a person experiences discomfort (intestinal and extraintestinal manifestations) after eating products containing gluten.
There are no clear diagnostic criteria and the diagnosis is made by trial and error – the addition and subsequent exclusion from the diet of various gluten-containing foods.
What is the benefit of gluten?
Gluten is not just a spherical protein in a vacuum, it is part of a grain of wheat (or rye or barley). And cereals are useful slow carbohydrates, dietary fiber, B vitamins and trace elements (iron, copper, zinc, magnesium). Whole grains contain all of these benefits in the most accessible, tastiest and cheapest form.
What’s wrong with a gluten-free diet?
About 1% of the population in the United States has celiac disease and 0.6 to 13% have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, according to one study. However, upon examination of the latter, the diagnosis was confirmed in about a third. Total about 3-4% of the total population.
In other words, a diet low in gluten is justified for a maximum of 4 to 5% of the population. According to the same study, one-third of American adults follow a gluten-free diet. And half of the athletes.
The gluten-free market brought in $15.5 billion in 2016, three times more than in 2011. Yes, it’s the United States and they’re more inclined to follow all kinds of fashion trends that come our way. in three years. At the same time, they collect the statistics well and can be inspired by them as a trend for the next years with us. And manufacturers of gluten-free products need new markets.
Yes, this sounds like another conspiracy theory, so here are some double-blind studies:
- people on a gluten-free diet weigh less, but their blood biochemistry, risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease are the same as those on a normal diet. According to the analysis of questionnaires on the gluten-free diet, the majority of its adherents are well-educated, carefully monitoring their health, women who, regardless of the diet, can control their weight and well-being.
- there is evidence that a gluten-free diet may help improve symptoms of conduct disorders, especially schizophrenia. But recent comprehensive studies (one, two) point out that earlier findings only prove the presence of immune disorders in patients with schizophrenia. The first study includes psychosis and depression, in which a gluten-free diet also does not improve the condition.
- For athletes, a short-term gluten-free diet will not improve performance: in one study, a group of (non-celiac) cyclists followed a high-gluten diet for 7 days, then a gluten-free diet after a 10-day period. of cleaning. There was no difference in the speed and well-being of the athletes of the two diets.
There are many conditions in which a gluten-free diet does not help, you can read more about them in the same review.
And now about What are the dangers of eating gluten-free foods?:
- in a study of celiac patients, less than half of women and 88%, 100%, and 63% of men, respectively, got the right amount of dietary fiber, iron, and calcium when eating only food gluten free.
- on the other hand, to improve the taste and texture of gluten-free foods, more salt, sugar and fat are added. There is a tendency to use a lot of trans fats in these products, especially if they are factory foods.
- in an Austrian market study of gluten-free products confirm their low protein, sodium and fiber content at a price at least 2 times higher than analogues containing gluten.
- and here, with the participation of a large number of people, they have proven that a gluten-free diet does not reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and may even increase it due to a lack of dietary fiber from whole grains .
And of course, you need to take into account the price, which is inflated not only due to the complexity of preparing such products, but also due to the popularity of gluten-free diets.
And it’s also just inconvenient – you can’t just sit in a cafe or quickly skimp in the nearest store – gluten-free products are far from everywhere, and in many ordinary familiar products not even made from wheat, gluten is always present as stabilizers or due to the use of certain and same production lines. In the store you will need to carefully read the labels, and in cafes and restaurants – to find out how, from what and in what pans the food is prepared.
So is it or isn’t it?
The best principle here is probably: “too much is not healthy”. If you have celiac disease or a gluten allergy, of course, you can’t eat it. But you have probably already known about these conditions for a long time and follow the proper diet. If in doubt, any large lab can test for both allergies and celiac disease.
And in other cases, it is better to be more attentive to yourself and your well-being after different products. There are no clear diagnostic criteria for non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and if you notice deterioration in well-being after wheat products, try excluding different groups of them in turn. . Perhaps it will be enough to remove premium wheat products and leave healthy whole grains and durum varieties.
If you don’t suffer from gluten hypersensitivity and bowel disease, you’ll probably spend a lot of money and get no benefit. But consuming less of the vitamins and fiber you need increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. We do not exclude citrus fruits or peanuts from the diet because they are allergic.