Gluten in Grains. Could Grain-Free be the Answer for Many?
By: admin On: 13 April 2023
Should you find Gluten Free Cereals? A coeliac reaction is triggered by the gluten proteins in the Triticeae family of grains; wheat, barley and rye. Specifically, the storage proteins known as prolamines, and glutelins.
Gluten in grains. It is fairly straightforward right? By now we understand which grains contain gluten, which are gluten-free, and which are not even grains at all. Yet it turns out that it is not that simple, and that things are never quite what they seem.
In this article we delve deeper into the subject of gluten in grains and consider why, for many, going completely grain-free may be the answer.
The gluten-free gold standard
Once was a time when gluten-free wasn't actually a thing for most of us. Unless blighted by coeliac disease or a severe allergy to wheat, we could quite happily have our cake and eat it.
For those who suffered from the consequences of eating wheat and associated glutens, it was necessary to follow a gluten-free diet. Which back in the day was a lot less complicated. Gluten-free alternatives were available, yet nowhere near as widespread as they are today.
The market for gluten-free foods (as oppose to naturally gluten-free produce) came about in response to greater demand from the coeliac community. The entire body of gluten-free literature and law was defined by the specifics of coeliac disease. Which is great. When it comes to the question of allergens, people need to understand the severity of such a disease.
What triggers coeliac disease?
It is widely accepted that a coeliac reaction is triggered by the gluten proteins in the Triticeae family of grains; wheat, barley and rye. Specifically, the storage proteins known as prolamines, and glutelins. The chemistry is complex, as chemistry tends to be, but it also involves levels of particular amino acids, including glutamine and proline.
The point here is that in many (most) countries the measurements that allow foods to be labelled as gluten-free are based upon these specific proteins, in accordance with the lowest levels that may trigger a coeliac response. So far, so good.
Gluten in grains
But here's the thing. There is gluten in ALL grains. Part of the unique genetic make-up that defines a true cereal grain is the presence of prolamines. Those gluten storage proteins which help the seed to sprout.
In wheat, it is gliadin. In barley, it is hordein. In rye, it is secalin. In oats, it is avenin. In rice, it is orzenin. In maize, it is zein. And in sorghum, it is kaferin.
In theory, although the jury is still out on oats, other than the proteins in wheat, barley, and rye, none of these trigger a reaction in those with coeliac disease. Which is why rice, oats, maize, and sorghum, are all designated gluten-free. EVEN THOUGH they do actually all contain gluten proteins.
Can the gluten in all grains cause a reaction?
It must first be said that there are many good things about grains. We have no intention of vilifying any food and if you are considering eliminating any foods from your diet then it should be with good reason. Nutrition is rarely straightforward and there are times when the benefits can outweigh the risks. Careful consideration is key.
But yes, the gluten in all grains has the potential to cause a reaction. Each type is different, just as we are all different. Rice, for instance is considered to be the most benign grain of all. Yet some people do have an inflammatory reaction. Corn, alongside rice, finds its way into most gluten-free alternative foods such as pasta or bread, yet has a high protein content that has been shown to trigger sensitivities in a huge number of people.
It is now understood that what may be safe for many coeliacs, can indeed trigger a response in those with a gluten allergy, or sensitivity. And that the reasons that people seek out information, or gluten-free products, may not necessarily be confined to our current definitions and understanding.