It’s a good question that most people seem to have an opinion on. Opinions by trendy foodies, celebrities, as well as us mere mortals all over the world are mainly focusing on the ills of gluten. The gluten free market is now a huge market, so now there are vested interests involved, much the same as there were on the opposite side.
It seems that further investigation and blind testing has been finding that it’s more complicated than we thought. It seems there could be another culprit which has not been in the public consciousness.
Here’s a report in the New Scientist with some background. Quote:
Gluten might not be the bad guy after all. Evidence suggests it may be the fructan molecules in wheat that cause stomach problems in people with an intolerance.
About 1 per cent of people have coeliac disease, an autoimmune disorder that makes them react badly to gluten proteins in wheat. But a further 12 per cent feel ill after eating wheat-based foods like bread and pasta, despite not having coeliac disorder.
Now it looks like it may not actually be gluten that causes problems for these people with “gluten sensitivity”.
In 2013, a study of non-coeliacs who ate gluten-free to relieve gut issues found no difference in symptoms when these people ate identical meals that either lacked gluten, or were full of it. This suggested gluten has no effect, prompting Jane Muir and Peter Gibson at Monash University in Australia and their team to wonder if there might be an alternative culprit.
This new study used cereal bars containing gluten, others containing the suspected fructans and a control bar containing neither.
Participants were those who have been on a gluten free diet and complaining of gut sensitivity. The 59 participants ate one type of bar each day for seven days with a break of one week in between each type of bar. Of course they didn’t know which bars they were eating.
The fructan bars triggered 15% more bloating and 13% increase in gastrointestinal complaints than the control bar. But interestingly the gluten bar had no effect.
But it also may explain why people feel better when they eliminate wheat in their diets as that will reduce fructans.
Another thought that we often speculate about is that baking and baked goods in the main have for the last 60 years been process driven. What I mean by that is that the “progress” or “development” of new manufacturing technologies has been driven by manufacturers and their budgets. Ease of manufacture, saving time and money has been what this modern system has been geared for.
We know that considering health, nutrition and flavour has been a secondary or tertiary consideration in the equation. This is so because we’ve assumed that it just must be good for you since it’s all based on wheat a natural old food, never mind our tinkering with it, right?
Lots of advertising has been used to change our perception of the essential factors of flavour and nutrition. In some cases processing additives, such as conditioners, nitrogen producing compounds as well as sugars and emulsified fats have been used to make bread more palatable, softer and longer lasting when made using the “rapid dough” system. 95% of baked goods are manufactured in this way.
Of course we could even go further back in the chain to consider that wheat breeders and farmers are choosing certain plant traits such as disease resistance, drought tolerance and absolute protein content, among other logistical cropping characteristics, as the main criteria for new breeds.
Of course these things are important but you could be forgiven for thinking that these are not the entire spectrum of plant traits that are important. I may be wrong but I haven’t seen any work in wheat breeding to include organoleptic characteristics such as flavour, or consideration of other traits that consumers may be interested in, excepting price.
Anyway, the jury is still out on gluten but the indicators seem to point to other culprits. We’ll be watching with interest. Here’s another quote from the article linked above.
The team’s findings fit with six recent trials that suggest about 70 per cent of people with irritable bowel syndrome feel better when they cut out fructans and other nutrients from a food group known as FODMAPs.
This stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. These are a collection of short sugar chains that are difficult to digest. They draw in water and are fermented in the large intestine by gas-producing bacteria, causing the gut to stretch slightly. People with irritable bowel syndrome are more aware of this because they have hypersensitive nerve endings in their guts…
If fructans do turn out to be the real problem, it will open up a range of foods that were previously off-limits, says Ellard. Soy sauce, for example, contains gluten but is low in fructans, while the fermentation process used to make sourdough bread strips away wheat’s fructans.