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Gluten Protein: Good and the Bad

The substance in bread dough that makes it stretchy is a protein called gluten. It also makes bread chewy. This quality of gluten is activated by pressing it together. In bread, this is done by kneading. As a rule of thumb, the more dough is kneaded, the more elastic it becomes. Gluten also helps the dough contain the gasses created by the fermentation process after the introduction of yeast to the bread. This allows the dough to rise and is what creates all the little air pockets found in bread. It's stiffness helps bread maintain a consistent shape when it is baked. Often extra gluten is added to bread recipes in order to enhance these qualities.

Seitan: Wheat Meat

Because it is a protein (and the fact that pure wheat gluten exhibits many of the properties of meat) gluten is used by many vegetarians as a way to get protein into their diet, as well as some of the satisfaction the human body gets from chewing. Seitan is a kind of "wheat meat" that can be made when gluten is isolated from bread. Wheat gluten can be found in stores that specialize in vegetarian foods. There are many recipes available.1

Celiac Disease

Like almost any other food or protein there are people who react negatively to gluten consumption. In people with Celiac's disease the gluten will wear down places in the intestines where food is absorbed into the blood vessels. This can cause various symptoms including, diarrhea, abdominal cramping and distention, dry skin, weakness, fatigue, weight-loss, and more.2 Dermatitis Herpetiformis, a kind of scaley skin rash, could also be caused by wheat gluten in susceptible persons.3

Some mental problems may also stem from gluten consumption. Symptoms include fatigue, energy loss, and the inability to concentrate. Celiac disease attributed to mental disorders is thought to be caused by an anti-body. There are actually two proteins that come together, when water is added, to make gluten. These are glutenin and gliadin. Celiac Sprue (another name for the disease) is possibly caused by the presence in the system of high anti-gliadin antibodies. A study revealed, "that patients with gluten ataxia have antibodies against Purkinje cells. Anti-gliadin antibodies cross-react with epitopes on Purkinje cells."4

The best way to deal with Celiac Sprue is to abstain from products that contain gluten. Yet wheat is a pervasive product which can be found not only in bread, but breakfast cereals, crackers, soups, pastas and many other foods (as well as some makeups). Removing gluten from wheat produces a glue-like substance, also called wheat starch. So far no process has been developed that removes absolutely all gluten from wheat. This means that gluten-free wheat flour will still contain traces of gluten. Gluten can be found in some other grains including rye and barley. There has been some dispute on whether it is in oats, but the latest word is that oats do not cause celiac reactions, although oats may be processed on the same machinery and thus may end up with traces of gluten.

Nutrition Page

  1. Ellen's Kitchen
  2. Celiac Symptoms
  3. Mayo Clinic on Celiac Symptoms
  4. Gluten and the Brain

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