Gluten Essay

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There is a New Yorker cartoon I saw recently that read, “I have no idea what gluten is, either, but I’m avoiding it, just to be safe.” Gluten has been part of our diet for thousands of years, but I could ask a fair sample of people what gluten is, and I’m certain that most would provide the same answer that the cartoon does. What most do know is that gluten is a product to be avoided, no matter the latest diet craze. Now don’t get me wrong, there are a people who should avoid gluten completely; they have no choice. But for the majority of those whose diet is gluten free, they have no good reason why. So where do we go from here? Is this just a fad, and will it pass? There has been an explosion of products, articles, publications, about gluten-free. So I ask myself. Gluten, friend…or foe? Avoid or embrace? What is gluten, exactly? Let’s start with its chemical composition. If a chemist answered the question, gluten is a complex protein. When gliadin and glutenin (two proteins found in flours), are hydrated and mixed, gluten is created. Have you ever heard of a “gluten complex?” Say you’re making bread and you add water to your flour, this hydrates the proteins (gliadin and glutenin), causing them to swell and become flexible. You then knead your mixture, which rearranges your proteins, and the result is a “gluten complex.” Now, you leave your mixture on the counter to fill with air and rise perfectly, while maintaining its dome shape--all the result of gluten. So why then is gluten getting such a bad rap? So far, it sounds like a friend to me. So I ask myself. Gluten, friend…or foe? When gluten is not a threat, our digestive system happily breaks down the complex protein into gluten peptide molecules, which make their way down the small intestine, into the colon, and are then excreted. No problem. However, for those with celiac disease, gluten is a huge

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