Gluten is an element in the family of proteins of glutenin and gliadin. These make up almost the whole substance of that protein and fall into the 2 major branches of gluten. Starch, wheat and grains are the major carriers. Protein types of gliadin are found in wheat, hordein is contained in barley, secalin in rye, avenin is found in oats, zein in corn and oryzenin is in rice.
Gluten was discovered by Chinese Buddhist monks during the 7th Century while trying to find an alternative meat flavoring for a vegetarian diet. They used what was available: wheat flour and water. By molding dough and dipping it in cold water, they discovered the properties of gluten! Thus the immersion in water washed away the starch and a soft dough texture was produced.
When the gluten is squeezed out of the dough it results in very small particles of glutenin molecules, called gliadin, which make the dough thick and supple. During the baking process, the yeast feeds off the sugar and produces carbon dioxide gas. The carbon dioxide becomes trapped, causing the dough to rise and shape up the baked good. This can be seen in food products such as pizza, bagels and pies and is why gluten is one of the most sought after food additives.
In spite of all the negative effects of this substance on those suffering from gluten intolerance, it is accepted by all countries as a healthy source of protein. By international standards, the ‘Codex Alimentarius’ defines the proper brand labeling of gluten-free foods. Some food products, unknown to the consumer, contain gluten as a stabilizing agent. In the USA, gluten is considered GRAS or Generally Recognized As Safe. Other countries, like the United Kingdom, allow voluntary brand labeling for gluten containing products.
Even though wheat and other glutinous grains are present in a large percentage of foods products, there is a significant percentage of celiac sufferers in the United States. The harmful effects to a celiac disease patient are a vast list of painful symptoms including malabsorption and anemia. WBRO — wheat, barley, rye and oats — define amino acid sequences which cause gluten intolerance (note: oats are a special case – see below).
A gluten-free diet seems to be the only cure. Zero gluten labels mean foods do not contain unsafe additives such as gluten derived peptides, starch and malt. Hence, these products are considered “foods that don’t harm celiacs.” Oats are also generally considered one of the constituents of a gluten-free diet but celiac patients should proceed with caution in adding oats to their diet. A few guidelines should be followed before adding oats to a celiac diet: the patient’s celiac disease should be well controlled; it should be used in limited amounts; and the oats must be labeled pure, free of cross-contamination, and gluten-free. A patient is advised to add oats under a doctor’s supervision. Still, there are a small number of celiac patients who cannot tolerate avenin, the protein found in oats.
Peptides are also a harmful constituent of gluten. They are also known as polypeptides and peptide chains which are a structure of hundreds of amino acids. The peptide having 19 amino acids is harmful to celiac patients. Moreover, barley and rye also contain some polypeptide chains. These all cause abnormal intolerance and allergies in celiac patients.
Corn and rice are not considered celiac harmful even though they contain gluten they contain no gliadin. Gluten is also cooked as a meat alternative in oriental countries like China and Japan. Found in vegetarian dishes, it has the savor of fish, beef and chicken. Other products containing gluten include pet foods and herbicides.