What is gluten? Gluten is a type of protein that is found in foods like wheat, barley and rye. It gives dough that much needed elasticity, makes it rise and gives it structure keeping its shape and form. It gives bread that distinct chewy composition we all familiar with. Gluten has qualities that gives it the capacity to absorb which is why breads generally soaks up liquids quite well.
Contrary to popular belief, not all grains contain gluten. Wild rice, soy and chickpeas for instance are all gluten-free. It is even possible to remove gluten from wheat flour by rinsing off the bread dough and kneading it until the starch is removed. Breads made from wheat flour that has been depleted of its gluten content tend to be overly sticky and gooey.
A significant percentage of the population suffer from celiac disease. Those who have this disorder experience a type of immune reaction in their small intestines when they consume foods that contain gluten. Their immune system damages or destroys the villi, which are the tiny fingerlike protrusions that line the small intestine. These villi are crucial because they allow nutrients from the food you eat to be absorbed though the walls of the small intestine into the bloodstream. A person becomes severely malnourished no matter how much food is consumed without healthy villi. Symptoms of this debilitating condition may include, some form of abdominal bloating and pain, chronic diarrhea, vomiting, constipation and weight loss.
The only known treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. Sufferers normally work closely with dieticians to learn how to read ingredients and identify foods that contain gluten. They may even pick up some rudimentary gluten-free cooking and food preparation skills.