In its simplest definition, gluten contains a class of proteins from wheat, rye, barley (and possibly oats). Bakers work hard to develop gluten in dough by kneading flour and water mixture. Bakers know how much gluten has formed by testing its elasticity. The amount of gluten in dough affects how the bread rises and its texture. For example, pizza dough is typically kneaded extensively to increase gluten which results in a chewy texture, whereas pastries made with cake flour are mixed as little as possible to minimize gluten and achieve a tender baked good.
For those with celiac disease, the body sees gluten as an invader and the body attacks itself by producing antibodies which results in symptoms that vary from fatigue and weakness, migraines, canker sores and acne to depression, seizures and infertility. Because of the wide range of symptoms, celiac disease can be challenging to diagnose. A simple blood test may detect those antibodies in people who are wheat-sensitive.
For millions of Americans, a life free of gluten requires constant attention to labels. A few clear sources of gluten include bread, crackers and biscuits, most baked goods, pizza, pretzels, cereal, stuffing and breadcrumbs. But did you know it’s also in most beer, gravy, imitation crab (surimi), licorice, soy sauce and many soups? Many seasonings, thickening agents and binders may hide gluten as well.
For those who are especially sensitive, look for a label to state the product was made in a gluten-free facility as a trace of gluten can contaminate “safe” food. Remember to check labels each time you make a purchase as manufacturers can change their formula, sometimes for the better. Because gluten intolerance is so prevalent, many are seeking ingredients and substitutions to make their products gluten-free.
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