Look around your local grocery stores and you’ll likely find food items that are tagged ‘gluten free’. There’s gluten-free bread, croutons, chips, dips, stews, pretzel, and even beer. There’s also the Gluten and Allergen Expo, which bills itself as the largest exposition of gluten-free food products in the country. Enterprises like Metropolitan-Gourmet.com are also in on the fray. But, have you ever wondered what gluten is, and what’s so bad about it to gather such publicity?
A Primer on Gluten
Gluten is one of the most heavily consumed proteins in the world. It is mainly produced when dough is kneaded. The process facilitates the creation of a special bond between glutenin and gliadin. That bond is responsible for the elasticity and chewy nature of bread. Gluten is also responsible for giving bread its volume, since it traps carbon dioxide. Wheat and its byproducts are rich in gluten.
What’s So Bad About It?
To clear things out, gluten is not bad for all of us, but rather, for some. This special group of people has celiac disease, a condition that’s very rarely diagnosed. In those with celiac disease, gluten enters the digestive tract and is mistaken by the immune system as a type of harmful bacteria. In turn, the body mounts an attack against it, putting the digestive tract in danger.
Gliadin is considered the main culprit in the aforementioned situation. Antibodies produced to mistakenly attack gliadin can end up damaging specific organs with the same protein structure, such as the pancreas or the thyroid gland. As a result, conditions like hypothyroidism and type 1 diabetes may occur.
The Deal with Celiac Disease Sufferers
About twenty million people claim that they suffer from stomach complications after eating gluten-laced products. A third of American adults, in addition, claim that they’re trying to completely eliminate gluten from their diet routines. But the main point with these stats is that celiac disease cases are increasing in number, and most sufferers remain undiagnosed. Gut inflammation from gluten affects at least 80 percent of the population, and most of them don’t even know about it. Furthermore, 30 percent of the populace develops antibodies against gluten — the main culprit of celiac disease.
Gluten Intolerance: Celiac Disease’s Little Brother
It’s not just celiac disease sufferers who have adverse reactions to gluten, either. Gluten intolerance is much more widespread among the general populace. Unlike celiac disease, there’s no real attack on the body’s own tissues, though it still has similar symptoms. Bloating, stomach pain, fatigue, and diarrhea are common among gluten-intolerant people. It’s the lack of a clear-cut distinction with celiac disease, however, that’s helping gluten intolerance fly under the radar.
Gluten-free product sales are expected to exceed $15 billion this year, doubling the amount from 2011. And judging from the bad things that can stem from gluten intolerance and its related ills, it’s not that hard to see why. Fortunately, gluten-free products offer a wide variety of options for those looking to axe the protein from their diet.