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What is Gluten?

Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains like wheat, rye, spelt and barley. Of the gluten-containing grains, wheat is by far the most commonly consumed. The two main proteins in gluten are glutenin and gliadin. Gliadin is responsible for most of the negative health effects. When flour is mixed with water, the gluten proteins form a sticky network that has a glue-like consistency. This glue-like property makes the dough elastic, and gives bread the ability to rise when baked. It also provides a chewy, satisfying texture. Interestingly, the name glu-ten is derived from this glue-like property of wet dough.

So why is Gluten bad for some people?

People with celiac disease can’t tolerate gluten, not even small amounts. Just 50 milligrams of the protein—about the amount in one small crouton—is enough to cause trouble. In people with celiac disease, gluten triggers an immune response that damages the lining of the small intestine. This can interfere with the absorption of nutrients from food, cause a host of symptoms, and lead to other problems like osteoporosis, infertility, nerve damage, and seizures. A related condition called gluten sensitivity or non-celiac gluten sensitivity can generate symptoms similar to celiac disease but without the intestinal damage. Not long ago, celiac disease was diagnosed by a process of elimination. Today it can be identified with a blood test for the presence of antibodies against a protein called tissue transglutaminase. A biopsy of the intestine confirms the diagnosis.