Meaning of gluten

bread machine loaf

Meaning of gluten is for those who don't want to give up bread unnecessarily and are wondering what the alternatives are. There is good news to be had, but only if you are prepared to ferment and bake your own sourdough; the preparation time is only five minutes, but then you have a long waiting period; today's dough will only be baked tomorrow.

There are differences in the gluten, but typically that in wheat, rye and barley are the prime suspects when it comes to ulcerative colitis.

This page was updated by Bernard Preston on 1st July, 2019.

The protein in wheat is made up more or less of equal quantities of two substances:

  1. Gliadin - gives the dough its viscous nature and makes it extensible.
  2. Glutenin - responsible for the dough strength and elasticity.
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  3. Meaning of gluten

Actually there are several types of each, but there's no need to go into that depth.

These two substances are just one of the many sources of the amino acids that the human body uses to build up our own unique proteins, according to our own DNA; most we get from meat, eggs, dairy products and legumes.

In the consideration of the deleterious affect of gluten on some folk, we will only consider gliadin; that's the real spoke in the wheel.

Gliadin consists of a long chain of amino acids, constituting a problem if they are not properly digested and broken down into individual units; in particular it is rich in the problem child for those who are gluten sensitive, namely proline.

Glutenin on the other hand has less proline but in fact forms one of the largest protein molecules found in nature, giving dough its unique elastic properties.

Gluten sensitivity

Gluten sensitivity has been increasing dramatically in the last 50 or so years; researchers in Sweden found that the abrupt introduction of foods rich in gluten when women stopped breast feeding was a very important factor.

Instead they recommend a gradual increase from about 6 months, whilst continuing to breast feed.

The prevalence of frank coeliac disease is still only about 1%. Interestingly poorer people are less prone, with relative wealth making refined carbohydrates more available from a much younger age.

However, up to 10% of people feel that they are sensitive to wheat, and that indigestion of what sort or another improves by avoiding those grains containing gluten.

What is seriously problematic is when they replace their grains with white rice and other refined starches. Most gluten-free foods are highly processed.

A better option is replacing foods not with refined starches but with whole grains like brown rice, maize, quinoa and buckwheat that have no gluten.

Proline and glutamine

Intestinal epithelium

Gluten consists of long chains of amino acids, of which proline and glutamine constitute a large fraction. Fortunately neither are on the essential list and can be synthesised in the body from others; humans can survive perfectly well without wheat.

However there is much research indicating that those who regularly enjoy 100% whole grains are much healthier; they are the best source of vitamin E and many of the B complex, and the bran not only provides bulk for the stool, but also slows the absorption of glucose into the blood stream.

The problem, researchers have found is that gluten is "exceptionally resistant to enzymatic processing" in the gut; the result is that partially digested fragments are absorbed into the body at the brush border membrane where they stimulate a T-lymphocyte immune reaction[1].

This is an inflammatory autoimmune reaction in which the body reacts badly to its own tissues.

Normally the small intestine has a 'rug-like' epithelial lining, with villi projecting into the lumen of the gut, increasing the surface area where absorption of these amino acids occurs; but they slough off in this inflammatory process which is why those suffering from Coeliac and Crohn's diseases suffer from malnutrition.

Notice in particular the 'tight junctions' in the graphic above which serve to prevent the penetration of these fragments of amino acids, known as peptides, that are only partially digested.

In people who are gluten sensitive, some of these partially digested peptides may penetrate the tight junctions producing an immune response to these short chains of amino acids that are not recognised by your own immune system.

Amino acids have variable carbon chains, R below, with 'carboxyl' and 'amine' groups situated in different positions, giving each amino acid its unique character.

Amino acid structure.

Glutamine, seen below, in fact has two amino groups, NH2. This type of structure is typical of all the amino acids except proline.

Glutamine structure R

Proline is believed to be the problem child. It has a ring structure, known in chemistry terms as an aromatic ring; can you see it?

Four carbon atoms and one nitrogen in a ring structure.

Something to do with this ring structure apparently is why it is more difficult for the enzymes in the small intestine in gluten intolerant folk to break the peptide chain down into individual amino acids.

Proline structure.

In its most severe form this absorption of peptide fractions causes a serious condition known as Coeliac disease; a toxic reaction to gluten. Life long abstention from grains containing gluten was formerly considered the only solution. 

Meaning of gluten

Meaning of gluten goes into some of the chemistry which you may need to understand if it's your desire to continue enjoying wheat products but not suffer from the undesirable effects.

There is in fact good news for most sufferers of Coeliac disease; there is a solution, and it's called sourdough bread. A fairly long exposure of the dough - much longer than you would get from conventional bread - to a concoction of lactobacillus and other friendly bacteria will break down these polypeptide links before they even enter your mouth as a slice of bread.

Researchers found that the majority of a group of folk with serious Coeliac disease could in fact enjoy sourdough bread with no reaction, provided it was prepared in a particular way; long exposition to the sourdough bugs.

Coeliac vs Crohn's disease

So, Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease in which your body attacks itself, when exposed to the gluten found in wheat, barley, rye, and sometimes oats. The solution is to avoid grains containing gluten, or better still eating them only when exposed to the sourdough process.

This fermentation process has to be done in a particularly thorough and specific way; sourdough bread off the shelf in the supermarket probably won't do.

Crohn's disease on the other hand is an inflammatory bowel disease, rather different to that of a Coeliac patient. In many ways they are similar.

Diarrhoea is common to both; both tend to have abdominal pain, cramping, indigestion and weight loss; rectal bleeding is a feature too as the lining of the bowel sloughs off. 

The distinction often has to made by use of a biopsy of the lining of the bowel, from a colonoscopy, or gastrocopy.

Crohn's disease patients may in fact be able to eat gluten rich grains.

These are all variations of what are known as Inflammatory Bowel disease, or IBD. Ulcerative colitis is another of these autoimmune diseases, but unlike Crohns affects only the colon and rectum, and thus less likely to cause the malnutrition of those IBDs that affect the small intestine.

It takes a specialist to make the diagnosis, but always understanding the meaning of gluten appears to be the key to coping with IBD.

Sourdough bread

Foaming sourdough starter

Researchers reporting in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology[2] reported that 14 of 17 patients unable to eat baker's yeast bread were able to enjoy sourdough bread when the dough was exposed to selected lactobacillus strains for 24 hours before baking.

In our usual sourdough bread recipe we in fact expose the dough for only 4-5 hours to the lactobacillus starter, but then we do not suffer from gluten intolerance.

Should bread cause indigestion, but no bloating, diarrhoea or rectal bleeding, then use of a probiotic such as explained in these kefir benefits is recommended; again lactobacillus and other bacteria are improving the fermentation of the starch in the colon.

Healthy flour

There is an enormous lie in the baking industry; frankly it's disgusting and allowed worldwide. So long as millers do not remove more than 51% of the bran and wheatgerm they are legally entitled to call their product wholemeal, but it is anything but the healthy flour that we humans need for vitamins, fatty acids and bran for the colon.

On the left is our freshly ground 100% flour, from which we bake 'real' bread and on the right is the 'wholemeal' counterfeit; can you spot the difference? It's chalk and cheese.

Google 'real bread' to read more on the movement sweeping the UK; folk who are tired of eating the tasteless, nutritionless junk from the supermarket.

So, how do you get healthy flour?

whole grain wheat flour.

Summary

If you are gluten intolerant you may be able to have your cake and eat it; you will have to learn to ferment the dough and bake your own bread. Once you get into the swing of it, it takes only five minutes; we do it every day.

Sourdough bread tastes divine and has no need for the processed meats and sugary jams that supermarket bread demands. And it's rich in the vitamins and bran our bodies so need.

It's interesting the heart attacks were virtually unknown until one hundred and fifty years ago when bakers started refining flour and removing the anticoagulant vitamin E.

Understanding the meaning of gluten is about great tasting bread but, more important, about better health; we think it's absolutely worth the five minutes spent every day.

To do it properly though you need an electric flour mill and a friendly farmer who will sell you bags of grain straight from the farm; then your sourdough bread almost nothing, except for five minutes of your time every day.

Start with the 'wholemeal' from the supermarket, and then consider going the next step; flour mills are expensive but our Hawo is 25 years old and paid itself off many times over.

There's a new generation ofelectric flour mill now called a Mockmill that's cheaper and grinds the wheat more finely.

100 percent whole meal

As you can see this is a complex subject; making your own home bake bread flour is only for those who are passionate about their well-being and love the taste of good food.


Grains with gluten

Wheat

Barley

Rye

Spelt

Bulgur

Grains without gluten

Oats

Quinoa

Rice

Maize

Sorghum

Buckwheat

Foods with hidden gluten

Beer and malts

Processed meat

French fries

Medication

Sauces and salad dressing

Soups

Starch

Snack bars

Take home

The take home is that whole grains are strongly associated with better health; avoiding them just because you think you may be gluten sensitive makes you prone to nutritional deficiencies, especially if you use refined rice or potato flour, for example.

Vitamin E, for example, is quite difficult to get in adequate amounts, especially all eight tocopherols; if you avoid whole grains you are likely to be deficient.

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