Gluten What Are They? Where do They Sit in and are Gluten Free Foods Healthier?
Gluten is proteins in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. More and more people can not tolerate this gluten and eat gluten-free.
The supply of gluten-free products is also growing. These products are mainly bought by people who have no medical reason for this.
I get the question from many people whether it is healthier to also eat gluten-free. This without having a medical reason for this.
In this article, I will deal with the use of scientific evidence, on the one hand, the usefulness and on the other hand the danger of gluten-free eating.
What you will learn in this article:
- What gluten are
- When you really cannot eat gluten
- What gluten sensitivity is
- The usefulness of gluten-free food
- What gluten is in and what the alternatives are
- The dangers of gluten-free food
- Whether gluten-free food is healthier
What is gluten?
Gluten is a collective name for a group of proteins found in wheat, durum wheat, spelled, barley and rye.
These proteins are stored in the germ-white of these grains and form the reserve substances for the germination and growth of the young plant.
Wheat is the most grown and consumed grain in the world. It is not only used for baking bread, but also for baking cake, cake, cake and pastry … everything in which flour is used.
Wheat can also be in foods where you will not expect this immediately. Examples are sauces, soups, meat products and vegetarian meat substitutes.
Gluten and bread
Certain properties of gluten are beneficial for making bread.
Thanks to gluten bread dough get its firmness, viscosity and elasticity.
Gluten ensures that the carbon dioxide, which is released during the fermentation process, can be retained in small chambers in the dough.
Thanks to the gluten, the bread dough can rise and the bread gets its airy structure.
If you have ever eaten gluten-free bread you will probably have noticed that it is drier and less light-hearted. This is due to the lack of gluten.
Glutenines and gliadins
The gluten proteins can be divided into two groups: the glutenins and the gliadins. The gliadins only occur in wheat varieties and ensure the viscosity of the dough.
Gliadins and related storage proteins (prolamins) in the triticeae gender group cannot be tolerated by people with celiac disease (gluten intolerance). Cereals that also belong to this genus are rye and barley.
Cereals such as corn and rice contain gluten but not gliadin and can therefore simply be eaten by people with celiac disease.
When you really cannot eat gluten
If the celiac disease has been diagnosed with you, then you really cannot eat gluten anymore.
In people with celiac disease, the lining of the small intestinal wall damages the eating of gluten. This gives a whole series of (abdominal) complaints.
Complaints that can be bothered:
- Usually diarrhea but sometimes just constipation
- Fatty and strong-smelling stools
- Stomach ache
- Stuffed belly
- Little appetite
- Throwing up
The complaints that people with celiac disease have can sometimes be vague. This concerns complaints such as fatigue and headache.
Because the symptoms can also be vague, many people walk around with celiac disease without knowing that they have this.
It is estimated that 80% of people with celiac disease do not know that they have this (source). These people do not (yet) have any or few (abdominal) complaints, causing the celiac disease to go unnoticed.
In people with celiac disease, the immune system sees the gluten for an intruder.
The immune system will not only attack the gluten proteins but also an enzyme in the cells, the enzyme tissue transglutaminase which produces glutamic acid from glutamine.
As a result, the immune system attacks not only the gluten but also the small intestinal wall. This gives an inflammatory reaction. Celiac disease is therefore seen as a chronic autoimmune disease.
There are no medicines that help against celiac disease. The only remedy is to follow a strict gluten-free diet for life.
This is not easy because wheat is used in many foods. This creates the risk of a shortage of nutrients.
If someone with celiac disease does not follow a (good) gluten-free diet, then there is also the risk of a shortage of nutrients.
Due to the gluten, the intestinal wall of the small intestine will be seriously damaged in the long run.
The small intestine is the place where nutrients have to be absorbed. Due to the damage, nutrients can no longer be absorbed properly.
You will then face complaints such as:
- An overall feeling of weakness
- Weight loss
- Depressed feelings
- Children can stay behind in growth and puberty can be abandoned
Diagnosis of celiac disease
Do you suspect that you have celiac disease? Then your first thought might be to try this out by not eating any more gluten, which is a logical idea.
However, this is not such a convenient way to diagnose celiac disease because it offers no certainty.
Maybe your symptoms disappear because you exclude certain foods and your complaints were not caused by gluten at all.
You then run the risk that you will take a (long-term) gluten-free diet for life without this being necessary.
Moreover, with a gluten-free diet, you run more risk of getting shortages of certain nutrients, so that in time you can get other ailments.
The best is to have a doctor check for celiac disease. This is only possible if you are still eating gluten.
If you have been eating gluten-free for a long time and you are knocking at your GP for an investigation into celiac disease, there is a big chance that nothing will be found. Your intestinal cells have already been able to recover and there will be virtually no antibodies in your blood.
The doctor will first examine your blood for antibodies. If you have antibodies then there is a reasonable chance that you indeed have celiac disease.
To be sure of this, it is necessary to have a gut biopsy of the small intestine taken at the hospital.
Under a microscope, it will be checked whether the intestinal flakes are damaged. If this is the case, you can be confident that you have celiac disease.
There will not always be antibodies in the blood. Sometimes a gut biopsy will still be taken to exclude or confirm celiac disease.
This is the case when celiac disease is present in the family and the complaint picture gives cause for this.
What is gluten sensitivity?
Not only people with the autoimmune disease celiac disease can get symptoms by eating gluten.
Even people with gluten sensitivity (Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity / NCGS) cannot tolerate gluten.
The group of people with gluten sensitivity is larger than the group of people with celiac disease.
Exact numbers are not available because there is no good diagnosis for NCGS.
People with NCGS notice that (abdominal) symptoms disappear if they eat gluten-free while no celiac disease has been detected.
Complaints to NCGS
- Diarrhea or constipation (this can also occur alternately)
- Stomach ache
- Bloated feeling
- Chronic fatigue
- A headache
- Weight loss
- Joint pain
- Depressed feelings
Note: the above complaints may also have another cause. If you have several of the above complaints, discuss these with your doctor so that other causes can be excluded.
Bloating is common in people with NCGS. 87% of people with NCGS suffer from this (source).
60% to 82% of people with NCGS experience fatigue symptoms (source).
Unlike celiac disease, NCGS cannot be shown medically.
For example, there will usually be no antibodies in the blood and the small intestine wall will not be damaged, which is the case with celiac disease. There is, therefore, no reliable laboratory test for NCGS.
Criteria have been proposed to determine whether someone has NCGS (source). In summary, these are:
- Complaints occur fairly quickly after eating gluten
- Complaints will soon disappear as soon as they switch to a gluten-free diet
- The reintroduction of gluten into the diet causes the symptoms to come back
- Celiac disease and wheat allergy are already excluded
Finally, a blinded test with or without gluten-containing foods can be performed to exclude or confirm NCGS. With this, you know that the sensitivity to gluten is not ‘between the ears’.
If you have NCGS, eating gluten will trigger your symptoms again.
However, it is not as problematic as accidentally involving gluten as in people with celiac disease because the intestinal wall will not be damaged.
The symptoms will quickly disappear once gluten is excluded from the diet.
The usefulness of gluten-free food
If you do not have celiac disease, wheat allergies or gluten sensitivity, it is not necessary to eat gluten-free.
There is no scientific evidence that everyone should avoid gluten, yet I would advise this. This is because of the risk of leaky bowel syndrome.
Nor is it necessary to eat gluten-containing foods. Nutrients that are found in gluten-containing grains such as wheat are also found in gluten-free grains such as oatmeal.
Gluten-free food may be a trend, but this does not mean that gluten-free food is the umpteenth nonsense in the field of nutrition. If you feel better with gluten-free food then you should therefore just do that.
Everybody responds differently to nutrition and you will have to discover for yourself what you feel most comfortable with.
If you want to eat gluten-free you will have to be careful that you do not get shortages.
Gluten and the leaky bowel syndrome
The leaky bowel syndrome is not (yet) recognized by regular medical practitioners as a condition. Yet there is more and more known about it and it has a lot of interest in the medical world and a lot of research is being done.
In the case of leaky bowel syndrome, the wall of the small intestine leaves more substances than is intended.
The small intestine should only allow useful nutrients to pass through but also harmful substances and invaders can pass through the intestinal wall. This means that undigested food remains, bacteria and fungi can enter the bloodstream.
Because toxic substances can enter the bloodstream, they can cause a whole series of complaints. Think of skin problems, autoimmune diseases and psychological problems.
Normally, the mucous membrane on the inner wall of the intestine must keep the outside world (food, bacteria, viruses) separate from the inside of the body. In case of a leaky intestine, the mucous membrane is damaged and does not go well.
According to a group of scientists, a leaky gut could be the underlying cause of many modern chronic health problems and autoimmune disorders.
Another group of scientists is of the opinion that a leaking gut is a symptom of chronic illness and not so much the cause (source).
There are also other factors that are believed to play a role in leaky bowel syndrome. These include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption (source)
- A diet rich in sugars, especially fructose (source, source)
- Inflammation (source)
- Overgrowth of the Candida Albicans fungus (source)
- Stress (source)
Various studies have shown that there is a connection between miscellaneous diseases and leaky bowel syndrome. These are:
- Celiac disease (source, source, source)
- PDS (source, source)
- Crohn’s disease (source, source)
- Food allergies (source, source)
- The development of type 1 diabetes (source)
- It is not always clear what is the cause or effect.
Some sites also explain the link between cancer, eczema, autism, depression and other psychological complaints. However, there is no or only weak evidence for this. Further investigations will have to give a definitive answer about possible tires.
Gluten and irritable bowel syndrome
A group of people who can feel better by eating gluten-free are people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
It is estimated that 5 to 20% of the population has PDS.
With regard to complaints, IBS has a lot in common with gluten sensitivity.
Complaints at PDS are:
- Stomach ache
- Abdominal cramps that become less after stool
- Bloated feeling
- Slow pressure
- Diarrhea or constipation
Doctors speak about PDS if there is no underlying cause for the complaints. The complaints must last longer than 3 months.
In people with IBS, studies can show that there is a slight inflammation of the intestinal wall or that the intestinal flora is affected. However, no cause can be found here, this to the frustration of many IBS patients.
PDS and FODMAP
A study was conducted among a group of people with both PDS and gluten sensitivity (source).
This study is very interesting because the researchers chose a very different approach than other researchers. The researchers had put the participants on a FODMAP diet.
Examples of FODMAPs are fructans and fructo-oligosaccharides that are in vegetables and grains and lactose in milk and the sweetener sorbitol. Especially grains are very rich in FODMAPs.
This type of carbohydrate is only broken down by intestinal bacteria at the end of the digestive system. These bacteria produce hydrogen gas which causes all kinds of complaints such as bloating and flatulence.
Because FODMAPs attract moisture in the gut, they can also cause diarrhea. Many people with PDS are sensitive to FODMAPs (source).
That was just a small dodge to explain what FODMAPs are, back to the study among people with both PDS and gluten sensitivity. In this study participants received a diet free of FODMAPs, however, isolated gluten was added to the diet (gluten without FODMAPs).
The isolated gluten did not appear to cause any complaints as long as one ate FODMAP free.
From this, the researchers concluded that the complaints were not caused by gluten but by the FODMAPs. The participants were found to have a FODMAP sensitivity rather than a gluten sensitivity.
With a gluten-free diet, these symptoms improved because grain (and therefore many FODMAPs) were removed from the diet and not because the gluten was removed.
What this study shows is that in the irritable bowel syndrome FODMAPs are the main culprit and not so much the gluten.
In practical terms, this will not really matter much. A gluten-free diet and a FODMAP diet will exclude both portions of cereal such as wheat.
This means that with PDS you can better follow a FODMAP-arm diet instead of a gluten-free diet.
In addition to cereals, you will have to exclude other foods such as cow’s milk and certain types of fruit and vegetables.
What gluten and alternatives are
Gluten is in an incredible amount of food. Approximately 80% of the food will contain gluten in the average supermarket.
In addition to foods with dough, wheat gluten is also used as a binder or simply as a cheap filling.
Cereals containing gluten:
- Barley (barley)
- Khorosan wheat
Cereals that are naturally gluten-free can be contaminated with gluten-containing grains.
For example, oatmeal is naturally gluten-free, but it is often contaminated with gluten. This is because the oatmeal is harvested with the same machines used for the wheat harvest. Contamination with wheat can also take place further down the chain, such as during transport or processing.
Only if the gluten-free logo is on the packaging of a grain such as oats can you be sure that it is gluten-free. In such cases, the entire production chain, from harvest to packaging, is checked by the manufacturer.
Alternatives to the gluten-containing grains are:
- Unpolished rice
- Oats (malt) (with the gluten-free logo)
- Buckwheat (with the gluten-free logo)
Foods with gluten
Foods containing gluten:
- All types of flour, flour, cereal germs, cereals and cereal flakes of the gluten-containing cereals mentioned
- Breakfast cereals, muesli, etc.
- Pastry, cake, cake
- Everything made of dough
- Breaded foods
An alternative to bread is gluten-free bread. This is bread made from gluten-free cereals.
However, bread is not optimal for health whether it is gluten-free or not. Because the grains are ground into flour, the carbohydrates are quickly converted to glucose, which causes the blood glucose to rise very quickly.
If you are the best for your health, breakfast is better with gluten-free oatmeal
Rusk and cracker
The same applies to rusks and crackers as to bread, these are also available gluten-free but are not as healthy because of the refined carbohydrates.
Pastry and cake
Pastries, cakes and cakes are hard to obtain gluten-free.
You eat these only because of the sugars and refined carbohydrates only in exceptional cases.
It is best to make these yourself using gluten-free flours.
Gluten-free cookies can be bought at any supermarket or natural store. Also for gluten-free cookies, sugar and refined carbohydrates are present here.
To make pancakes you can buy gluten-free pancake mix. Buckwheat flour is then used instead of wheat flour.
For breakfast cereals, 98% of breakfast cereals are not healthy anyway. This is due to the additions of sugars and bad oils. Instead of breakfast cereals, you can also better eat oatmeal or other original cereals whether you want to eat gluten-free or not.
Instead of breaded meats such as schnitzels, you can buy unprocessed meats. If there is 100% meat on the package, you know that it is gluten-free. Pay attention also to meat which is only marinated. Marinades also almost always contain gluten.
In many supermarkets, they sell 1 or 2 brands of beer that are gluten-free.
Foods that often contain gluten
In many foods, you do not expect gluten directly, but wheat is often used. Foods where you have to be prepared for gluten:
- Soup and broth
- Marinated meat and meat products
Soup and broth
Ready-made soup and broth often contain wheat flour and/or barley. This in addition to another laundry list of ingredients that are not really healthy.
For example, in the ready-to-eat soup you often find sugars, yeast extract, fructose, bad vegetable oils and E-numbers.
For soup, therefore, always read the packaging or even better: simply make your soup or stock yourself. Small effort and even better and healthier too.
Gluten may be present in sweets or they may have been made in a factory that uses gluten. Always read the packaging carefully. Manufacturers are obliged to mention gluten.
Many people eat snacks as a snack. Snacks often contain gluten alongside any sugars, refined carbohydrates, hardened fats and E-numbers. There are plenty of gluten-free snacks for sale.
That a snack is gluten-free does not make it healthy. Often gluten-free snacks are even more unhealthy than the ‘normal’ variants. This is because more sugars are used to compensate for the lack of glutinous properties of gluten.
An alternative to (gluten-free) snacks is healthy snacks.
Gluten-free cereals can be found in desserts. This must always be indicated on the packaging with the allergy information.
The danger of gluten-free food
If you are going to eat gluten-free, you often eat fewer grains. This allows you to get shortages of certain nutrients. You can get shortages to:
- Dietary fibers
- Certain vitamins and minerals
Dietary fiber is important for your health and good intestinal flora and bowel movements. Fibers are not absorbed by the body, but they do provide a feeling of satiety. By eating enough fiber you eat less (source, source).
By including gluten-free cereals such as oatmeal in your diet, you ensure that you continue to get enough fiber. In addition, it is good to include other fiber-rich foods in your diet.
Vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds are good sources of fiber in addition to grains. You can supplement this with fiber-rich and gluten-free superfoods such as linseed and chia seed.
Vitamins and minerals
A gastroenterologist will check a number of vitamins and minerals every year (or every 2 years) in people with celiac disease. These are the vitamins and minerals from which you can get deficits by following a gluten-free diet.
If you eat gluten-free for health reasons, it may be advisable to regularly have these vitamins and minerals checked. Unless you are sure that you have eaten enough foods that contain them.
Vitamins and minerals where you can get a deficiency due to a gluten-free diet or celiac disease:
- Vitamin B1. This vitamin is found among other things in bread, grain products and dairy products. Because people who eat gluten-free often also eat lactose-free, the risk of a deficiency of this vitamin is greater. Vitamin B1 is important for releasing energy from the diet and the functioning of the heart.
- Folic acid. This is in whole grains, green vegetables, meat and dairy. A deficiency of folic acid causes anemia and fatigue.
- Vitamin B12. If you also have lactose (dairy) from your diet or you have celiac disease then it is advisable to have your B12 checked. A deficiency of vitamin B12 gives all kinds of neurological complaints and causes muscle weakness.
- Vitamin D and calcium. If the intestinal wall is damaged (as is the case with celiac disease), or if there is leaky bowel syndrome, vitamin D is often poorly absorbed. As a result, calcium is also less well absorbed. This can cause osteoporosis and a whole range of complaints.
- Iron is in wholemeal cereals, in meat and some vegetables. If you do not have enough iron, you get anemia. If you eat vegetarian, you will have to be extra alert to any iron deficiency because iron from meat is absorbed much better than iron from vegetable foods.
We are at risk of deficiencies in vitamins and minerals when following a gluten-free diet.
Another danger is that some people have a wrong picture with gluten-free food. Many people associate gluten-free products with healthy eating.
If the gluten-free logo is on a package, it goes into the shopping cart hop, assuming it will be healthy.
Gluten-free products such as gluten-free bread, cereals or biscuits are not suddenly healthy because they are gluten-free. Bread is never really healthy, because of the refined carbohydrates. That flour is made from a gluten-free grain does not make the bread suddenly healthy. It remains a source of refined carbohydrates that quickly increases blood glucose.
Gluten-free breakfast cereals are not always healthy. Always look carefully at the ingredients if not much sugar and bad vegetable oils are added.
And gluten-free snacks such as cake and cakes are always unhealthy. This is due to the large amounts of sugars and refined carbohydrates that make up these.
Whether you eat gluten-free or with gluten; If you want to eat healthily, you always eat as many unprocessed foods as possible and as little as possible from a package.
Is gluten-free healthier?
It is useful for everyone to eat gluten-free food because gluten-free food can help prevent leaky bowel syndrome. A condition for this is that gluten-containing foods are switched to healthy gluten-free alternatives.
It is only necessary for people with celiac disease to eat gluten-free.
Gluten-free food is strongly recommended for anyone with gluten sensitivity or PDS. Even though there is no man overboard if there is some gluten somewhere.
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