Gluten or gluten-free? You decide

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Seems like it was about 10 years ago or maybe more when I first heard the words gluten or gluten-free being used.

I didn’t know then what gluten was all about and despite doing some research on the subject recently, I’m not sure I could explain it much better now.

My interest stems from seeing “gluten-free” listed on many products at the grocery store or in TV ads.

The word gluten, regardless of its definition, sounds awful.

It sounds to me like the name of a disease or a large glob of something either greasy or very messy.

According to the dictionary, gluten is “a composite of proteins stored together with starch in the endosperm of various cereal grains.”

It is found in wheat, barley, rye and related species such as graham, bulgur, farro, farina, durum, kamut, bromated flour and spelt.

Gluten-free whole grains include quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat (Not the character from “Little Rascals”), sorghum, tapioca, millet, amaranth, teff and arrowroot.

An article in New Yorker magazine described gluten as “one of the most heavily consumed proteins on earth, created when two molecules, glutenin and gliadin, come into contact and form a bond.”

Said Google; “When bakers knead dough, the bond creates an elastic membrane, which is what gives bread its chewy texture and permits pizza chefs to toss and twirl the dough into the air. Gluten traps carbon dioxide as it ferments that adds volume to the loaf. Humans have been eating wheat and the gluten in it for at least 10,000 years.”

For people with celiac disease, which represents only about 1 percent of the population, exposure to gluten can trigger a reaction that can damage the inner wall of the small intestine.

This is the only negative drawback of gluten that I have been able to find.

It seems every few weeks, we hear about a new study claiming a certain food is either bad or good for you that was previously considered the opposite.

One day the item might be touted as being good, and six months later it is suddenly a health hazard.

According to the newsletter Healthline Foods, foods now considered as bad are sugary drinks, pizzas, white bread, fruit juices, vegetable oil, french fries, potato chips, low-fat yogurt ice cream and candy bars.

Gluten is also among the items considered bad.

It’s always been my understanding most fruits and vegetables are generally good for you.

Nevertheless, for a number of reasons and depending on whom you ask, fruit and vegetable items currently on the “bad for you” list include pineapple, corn, cherries, potatoes, bananas, figs, coconut, watermelon, Brussels sprouts, eggplant and onions.

While some nutrition experts now consider gluten to be bad for human consumption, don’t be surprised if within a few years other experts think differently and gluten gets removed from the list.

The only serious food-related warnings I recall from my childhood were to not eat too many sweets because they would rot our teeth out, and don’t eat bacon that has not been fully cooked for fear of getting trichinosis.

I still have my teeth, and if I’ve ever had trichinosis I didn’t realize it.

The only positive food advice I recall was “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

The publication Business Insider said items that can lead to cancer include “grilling meat over an open flame, salt-cured meat or fish or processed foods like ham, bacon or sausage.”

Also, an article in the publication Natural News lists the “most unhealthy, cancer-causing foods you should never eat again” as “hot dogs, sugar, all candy, non-organic fruits including apples, grapes, strawberries and several others, farmed salmon, cookies, cakes, pies, soft drinks, most sauces, cereal, most processed foods and microwave popcorn.”

Wonder what my waiter/waitress/server would say if next time I’m in a restaurant I ask for a little extra gluten added to my meal?

Keith Barnes is a reporter and columnist for the Johnstonian News, a Wilson Times Co. newspaper. Email him at kbarnes.jhn@wilsontimes.com.