Gluten is a component found in the seeds of wheat, barley, oat and rye. Gluten is made up of many proteins, some of which cause allergic reactions in the intestines of gluten-sensitive people. Gluten is found naturally in many foods and added to others, making it an important source of protein in many countries.
Gluten, which is Latin for glue, is made from a composite of elastic-type proteins found in the endosperm portion of seeds from grass-related grains. The two main types of protein that form gluten are called gliadins and glutenins, which are attached to starch in the endosperms of many grains. Approximately 80 percent of the protein content in wheat is gluten, according to the book “Advanced Nutrition: Macronutrients, Micronutrients, and Metabolism.” Gluten is meant to nourish embryonic plants during germination, which is why it is stored in the endosperm. Because starch is water-soluble and gluten isn’t, gluten can be obtained from wheat flour by dissolving away the starch with cold water. The process is more efficient if salty water is used. Maize and rice also have similar proteins, but are usually lacking in gliadins.
Gluten is very absorptive and elastic, properties that allow breads to rise and give grain-based foods their chewy texture. Gluten is also used as an additive for foods that have low protein levels or no protein at all. Wheat gluten is used in vegetarian cooking to imitate the firmness and texture of meats, such as tofu-based duck.
With digestion, the gluten proteins break down into smaller units, or peptide chains, that are composed of amino acids. Certain peptide chains from the metabolism of gluten cause intestinal problems in both people and animals. These peptide chains can originate from wheat, rye, barley and oat, although oat protein is often thought to cause fewer problems in people. Gluten sensitivity seems to be increasing in industrialized countries, which is why many more foods are labeled to clarify whether they contain gluten or not. Gluten sensitivity can lead to certain serious conditions, such as celiac disease.
Celiac disease develops due to heightened sensitivity to the breakdown products of gluten, primarily glutelins and gliadins within wheat. Celiac disease leads to changes in the small intestine that reduce normal absorption but also make some cells more permeable, allowing large proteins and other material to enter the bloodstream. Symptoms of celiac disease include allergic and autoimmune reactions, inflammation, dermatitis and breathing problems.
- Advanced Nutrition: Macronutrients, Micronutrients, and Metabolism; Carolyn D. Berdanier
- Contemporary Nutrition; Gordon M. Wardlaw
- Human Biochemistry and Disease; Gerald Litwack
- Professional Guide to Diseases: Ninth Edition; Springhouse Publishing
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