What is GLUTEN?
A grain of wheat contains different proteins. Most of this (up to 90%) is comprised of gluten which is found in the endosperm compartment of the seed and a much smaller amount (10-15%) is albumin or globulin. The gluten protein is made up equally of gliadin and glutenin.
Gliadin is resistant to being broken down in the gut so remains intact. These intact gliadins are responsible for triggering the inflammatory process of Coeliac Disease.
The gliadin in wheat is similar in structure to its cousins in rye (called secalin), barley (hordein) and oats (avenin). Gliadin, secalin, hordein and avenin are all referred to as GLUTEN. The gluten in all of these grains are capable of triggering Coeliac Disease.
Gluten is what gives dough its wonderful properties, allowing it to be elastic and strong rather than just falling apart.
Does wheat-free mean gluten-free?
You find gluten in wheat but does going wheat free also mean that you are gluten free? Not entirely! Gluten is found in 4 different grains:
Wheat is also found in grains derived from these such as triticale.
So if you exclude wheat from your diet then you are taking out a significant amount of gluten but if you are eating oat porridge such as rolled oats or quick oats or oatmeal in any form or having barley in your soup or eating rye bread then you are still actually eating gluten.
All these following words also = wheat: atta, biscuit, burghul, bran, chapatti, couscous, duram, femmer, farina, freekah, German flour, kamut, noodles, pasta, semolina, spelt, triticale, wheat, wheatgerm and wheat bran.
The wonderful elastic dough features of gluten are used to make pasta, cakes, pastries and cereals. The elastic properties are very useful in trapping the carbon dioxide released during yeast fermentation to give the characteristic texture of bread and other products that are risen (for example using self-raising flour).
Dough elasticity means it holds very well together thus preventing crumbling during rolling and shaping which can be hard to reproduce in gluten free grains.
Obvious foods containing gluten are breads, croissants, crumpets, pita bread, pizza bases, many breakfast cereals, biscuits, cous cous, pastas and noodles, cakes, pastries, rusks and regular beer.
Gluten is very heat-stable which means it is often used as an additive in commercial foods to improve texture, moisture retention and flavour. Examples are wheat starch and thickeners made from wheat which can contain minor or very small amounts of gluten as well as malt and malt extract which may be made from barley. This results in gluten being used in surprising foods such as batters, seasonings and stuffing, sauces, ice-creams, chocolate drinks medications, confectionary and many other foods.
If you react to gluten then you may have Coeliac Disease (where gluten has to be strictly eliminated). This can be screened for with a blood test and diagnosed with a subsequent endoscopy (note: need to be eating wheat at least 2 slices of bread most days 4-6 weeks- 6 is perferable) leading into the blood test and endoscopy. A gene test can also be taken which does not need gluten to be in the diet, as it is a test for a number of CD genes being present in your DNA or not. If you font have the genes then you don't have coeliac Disease and won't ever have Coeliac Disease (very small chance) but if you do have the genes then that does not mean a lot- most people with the genes don't go on to develop Coeliac Disease.
Alternatively, if you react to gluten you may have gluten intolerance which means small amounts of gluten may be tolerated rather than Coeliac Disease. It is best to check for Coeliac Disease before allowing some gluten back into the diet as a lack of symptoms gives no information as to whether Coeliac Disease is present or not.