Welcome to week two of my series on why I’m on a mission to reduce my gluten intake. This week we will cover what is gluten and what foods contain/don’t contain it.
When I started thinking about reducing my gluten intake I began reading “Heal Your Gut” by Lee Holmes. This has some fantastic information about how gluten can damage your digestive system. I kept meaning to do something about it, but not quite getting to the point where I made a plan to change. I recently started reading Grain Brain by Dr David Perlmutter and felt the need to speed up my plans! Dr Perlmutter is, for the record, a neurosurgeon with over 35 years’ experience in the study of brain diseases.
So to begin, let me quote from his book:
“One of the largest and most wide reaching events in the ultimate decline of grain health in modern society has been the introduction of wheat grain into the human diet”. (tweet this!)
Eeek! Let’s find out more then, shall we?
So What is Gluten?
There’s a heap of literature on it, but I will keep it fairly light on to be clear and link to different sources – then if you want to read on, you can!
Gluten (which is the Latin word for “glue”) is a protein composite found in certain grains. It acts as an adhesive material and assists with the leavening process (allowing bread to rise). It is used in other foods as a stabilising agent and can prevent curdling. It is also often used as a thickener.
It can be found in certain grains (detailed below), foods such as cheese spreads and sauces and beauty products. Yes you read right – beauty products.
Why is Gluten in Grains?
In order to survive and reproduce, grains must have some defence mechanism against predators. To ensure survival of their species they need their seeds to germinate after passing through their predators. How on earth do they do that? Easy – through toxins present in their husks. Hello gluten!
As you can imagine, this is not a good thing. But I digress – I will come back to this in next week’s post.
But Hasn’t Gluten Been Around for Ever?!
Gluten isn’t new – it’s true our ancestors used to eat it. However the wheat we eat today is very, very different to that of our ancestors. Due to advances in technology, hybridization became possible. In the 1970’s the old wheat grain Einkorn was hybridized to solve the worlds hunger problems. The resultant new grain contains three times the chromosomal count of the original.
Very interesting Kristy – but what does that mean you might ask? Well that tells us wheat today has:
“no genetic, structural or chemical likeness to what hunter-gatherers might have stumbled upon”.
Our genetic make-up is the same – the grains we consume are not.
Today farmers prefer strains of wheat that contain more gluten (higher gluten equals higher toxicity and therefore lower pest control). This means “low gluten” grains (such as Spelt) are not as popular to grow. Higher gluten grains produce lighter, fluffier products – hence the popularity.
So Why is all This Bad?
Well – you will have to wait until next week! For now, let’s look at what grains contain gluten!
Barley – the oldest cultivated grain and is used in many things, from malted whiskey to miso.
Couscous – is made from semolina.
Rye – a cereal grain and contains less gluten than wheat.
Semolina – is produced from durum wheat and is a high gluten product.
Spelt – an ancient relative of our friend wheat. It is lower in gluten than other products.
Wheat Germ – part of the wheat grain. The germ is removed during the production of white flour.
White flour – obviously contains gluten. By definition, white flour is the whole wheat berry, with the bran and the germ removed – leaving just starch (sounds yuck when you read it like that, doesn’t it?). It’s digested quickly, therefore causing a rise in blood sugar levels.
Wholemeal flour – this flour contains the whole wheat berry (bran, germ and starch). It is digested more slowly than white flour so doesn’t cause the same spike in blood sugar levels.
Sourdough: I should add sourdough bread is a popular choice today. What is sourdough? In this bread sourdough is used as the raising agent (instead of yeast). These breads do contain gluten, but are apparently easier to digest than yeast based breads.
Amaranth – often referred to as a grain, but is actually a seed (same as Quinoa). It is highly nutritious and can be cooked as you do rice. Out of interest, it has eight times more iron than wheat.
Arrowroot – an easily digested starch extracted from the roots of the arrowroot plant. It is used as a thickener (and substitute for cornflour) in baking.
Buckwheat– another seed. You have to be careful of Buckwheat Flour however, as it can contain gluten depending on the processing.
Corn – gluten free, however some people who have gluten sensitivities can also experience the same with corn.
Millet – another ancient seed. It can be cooked as per quinoa.
Quinoa –referred to as a grain, but is actually a seed. It is high in protein and high in lysine. You need to rinse the quinoa prior to cooking to remove the outer coating.
Rice –cultivated from a grass plant. There are various varieties (brown, white, basmati etc.). It can also be ground into flour.
Right – so now we know what gluten is and what foods it’s in (and not in) next week we will cover why it is bad for you! Who’s excited? Or at least interested?
To see Week One in the series, click here.