What is gluten?
Gluten is a general term for a protein found in most cereal grains, but only the gluten in certain grains are toxic to people with celiac disease. The grains that contain the toxic forms of gluten are: wheat (and its relatives like spelt, triticale and kamut), barley and rye, and possibly oats. Corn and rice also contain gluten, but they are not damaging to people with celiac disease. Therefore, the common usage of “gluten-free” refers only to being free of the grains that have the toxic form of gluten.
Why is wheat gluten good for baking?
Wheat gluten, more than any other type of gluten, gives chewiness and elasticity to dough and baked products. It keeps the fermentation gases in dough, allowing it to rise and helps the final baked product keep its shape. Wheat is used in most all baked products because of these characteristics. Therefore, it is difficult to find a gluten-free bread that rivals a wheat bread, which is made from high-gluten hard wheat, and is meant to have a chewy texture. You may find that gluten-free cakes, on the other hand, more closely resemble cakes made with soft wheat flour because this flour has a lower gluten content, and these products are meant to be tender and crumbly. Because of the presence of bran, which reduces gluten development, baked goods made from whole wheat flour are naturally heavier and denser than those made with white flour.
What is the difference between being wheat-free and being gluten-free?
People who are on a wheat-free diet don’t eat wheat, but will often eat wheat alternatives such as spelt, kamut and triticale, as well as barley, rye and oats. People who are on a gluten-free diet don’t eat wheat, any relative of wheat, or any grain that contains the toxic form of gluten. “Wheat-free” is a subset of “gluten-free”. Therefore, a product that is gluten-free is also wheat-free, but a product that is wheat-free is not necessarily gluten-free, as it may contain spelt or barley or rye, for example. A gluten-free diet is more restrictive than a wheat-free diet.
Who should go on a gluten-free diet?
Anyone diagnosed with celiac disease and/or dermatitis herpetiformis should go on the diet. Many people with other health problems feel better after being gluten-free. There is also anecdotal evidence that a gluten-free, casein-free (free of milk protein) diet can help some people with autism. For more about autism and the GFCF diet, visit the GFCF Diet website. Please always consult your physician before changing your diet.