Gluten-free foods: the most important questions and answers

Glutenfreie Lebensmittel: Die wichtigsten Fragen und Antworten

Gluten occurs in commonly used grains such as B. wheat, spelt, rye and oats and is therefore consumed by many people every day and often even several times a day through their diet. In addition to those affected by celiac disease, more and more people without the autoimmune disease are voluntarily avoiding gluten. In this context, the health advantages and disadvantages are being discussed more and more frequently.

Many believe that a gluten-free diet also has many advantages for people without celiac disease and is healthier than a normal whole diet. In this article we will explain to you exactly what the ingredient gluten is and when it makes sense to include gluten-free foods in your diet. We also answer important questions about gluten-free foods and help you to get a good overview of the topic.

the essentials in brief

  • Also known as gluten protein, gluten is made up of several proteins. It is contained in many, but not all types of grain and influences e.g. B. when baking the water bonds in the dough and thus the elasticity of the dough.
  • About 0.5 - 1% of the population suffers from celiac disease, i.e. a food intolerance to gluten. This leads to an overreaction of the immune system in those affected. Antibodies attack the body's own cells in the small intestine, which leads to permanent inflammation and, as a result, to a regression of the mucous membrane.
  • More and more manufacturers are offering gluten-free foods that normally contain gluten. The foods are then made from gluten-free cereals such as corn or millet and from so-called pseudocereals such as e.g. B. quinoa produced. Since these gluten-free varieties do not have the same baking properties as gluten-containing varieties, thickeners are also added to the products.

Gluten-free foods: what you should know

Almost every day, most people around the world consume gluten through certain foods. However, the protein mix now has a bad reputation in society and many people who want to eat healthy are willingly forgoing gluten-containing foods in favor of the stated health benefits.

Gluten has many beneficial baking properties and is also widely used in industry as a thickening agent, which is why it is found in many foods. A small percentage of the world's population will develop an intolerance as a child or later in life, and the only solution is to avoid gluten. Whether giving up gluten also makes sense for people who do not have celiac disease and many other questions about gluten-free foods are answered below.

What is gluten?

Gluten, also known as gluten protein, consists of various proteins , carbohydrates and fats and is found in the seeds of a wide variety of grains such as e.g. B. Wheat. Gluten contains two groups of proteins, glutelin and gliadin. Both are water-soluble and when mixed with water ensure that an elastic mass is formed. (1)

Gluten makes for a sticky dough that doesn't crumble.

So the most important food-related property of gluten is that it works as a good emulsifier and also as a carrier of flavorings. This means that a dough containing wheat flour and water forms a sticky dough structure and it does not become crumbly.

What is celiac disease (gluten intolerance) and how do I recognize it?

Celiac disease refers to the intolerance of the small intestine to gluten. About 1% (2) of the population suffer from the autoimmune disease in which the consumption of gluten leads to permanent inflammation in the small intestine. As a result, the villi of the mucous membrane of the small intestine die off over time, resulting in a reduced supply of important vitamins and nutrients.

This malnutrition leads to a wide variety of symptoms, the most common signs of illness in adults can be found in the following list:

  • tiredness and exhaustion
  • Iron and vitamin deficiencies
  • weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • Vomit
  • gas
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • stomach pain

Children affected by celiac disease have different symptoms than adults. The most common are:

  • diarrhea or smelly stools
  • gas
  • stomach pain
  • weight loss
  • growth residues
  • Late Puberty
  • paleness
  • nausea

(3)

In all those affected, the symptoms of the disease described above occur individually and with varying degrees of severity, which often delays a diagnosis. If you suspect that you have celiac disease, you should definitely visit your family doctor, who will then, if necessary, refer you to a specialist.

If you suspect celiac disease, your blood will be tested for antibodies.

If you suspect celiac disease, your family doctor can arrange for an antibody test. For this purpose, some blood is simply taken from you, which is then examined in the laboratory for certain antibodies . If antibodies are found in the laboratory, a biopsy of the small intestine is taken by a gastroenterologist during a colonoscopy to confirm.

For whom is a diet with gluten-free foods suitable?

For people with celiac disease, the only possible therapy is a diet with gluten-free foods. Foods containing gluten-containing grains such as wheat, spelled, rye, oats, etc. must therefore be consistently avoided in order to live without symptoms. (4) It can be very helpful to seek nutritional advice after a diagnosis of celiac disease, as many unexpected foods contain gluten.

wheat field

In order to live symptom-free with celiac disease, those affected must absolutely avoid cereals containing gluten. It can be helpful to take part in nutritional advice, since gluten-free foods are not always easy to identify. (Image source: Tomas Filipek / Pexels)

If people without celiac disease pay attention to a gluten-free diet, this can definitely have advantages. An important component of wheat flour and other types of flour is starch, which is rich in carbohydrates and therefore contains a lot of calories. If you do without the high-calorie flour, this often leads to weight loss and the blood sugar level is positively influenced.(5) A gluten-reduced diet is therefore mainly worthwhile for people who are overweight or diabetic.

However, healthy people should not do without gluten. Wholemeal products in particular have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system (6) and should not be avoided entirely without good reason. In addition, a gluten-free diet and the associated change in diet can lead to problems such as B. constipation and nutrient deficiency and the replacement products are often significantly more expensive than the conventional products.

Which foods contain gluten?

Since gluten is found as a protein in grains such as wheat, spelt, rye and oats, all foods containing any of the grains contain gluten. However, the different types of grain naturally contain different amounts of gluten.

In addition, the gluten content changes depending on how the grain is processed. To give you a quick overview of gluten content, below is a table listing the 15 grains and flours that contain the most gluten.

Groceries Mean (mg/100g food)
Spelled flour type 630 10,300
spelled (whole grain) 9,894
Wholemeal spelled flour 9,460
Wheat flour type 812 9,420
Wheat flour type 630 9,359
Green spelled flour whole grain 8,975
Wheat flour type 1050 8,740
wheat semolina 8,680
Wheat flour type 405 8,660
Wholemeal Wheat Flour 8,300
wheat (whole grain) 7,700
Wheat Flour Type 550 7,520
unripe spelt (whole grain) 7,100
Barley (whole grain, dehusked) 5,624
Oatmeal (Whole Wheat) 5,600

(7)

The table gives the gluten content in mg per 100g of food and is sorted from highest to lowest weight. As you can see from the table, spelled and spelled flour contain the most gluten, closely followed by the various wheat flours. It can also be seen that barley and oats also contain a lot of gluten and should therefore be avoided if you have celiac disease.

Which foods contain hidden gluten?

Aside from the obvious foods such as B. Baked goods, cereals and pastries, there are also many foods that contain hidden gluten. If you cook fresh and balanced at home, identifying and avoiding gluten in different foods shouldn't be a problem. However, this is not always so easy in restaurants or with ready-to-eat products. With these foods, it is not necessarily obvious at first glance that they contain gluten and in what quantities.

Among other things, soups, sauces and scrambled eggs are mixed with wheat flour in restaurants to get a better consistency. In the case of soups and sauces, stirring in flour causes them to thicken, while using flour in the preparation of scrambled eggs results in a creamy and fluffy mass.

Man and woman shopping

Many foods contain gluten, although it is suspected or recognizable at first glance. That's why you should always play it safe in restaurants and with finished products from the supermarket and check the ingredients carefully. (Image Source: Jack Sparrow / Pexels)

Care should also be taken with many fried foods, which are often dipped in flour breading before frying to give them a crispy coating. Additionally, deep fryers are often contaminated with gluten for this reason, which is why all the food they cook will contain some amount of gluten, even if the dish you order is usually gluten-free. (8th)

In addition, medicines and dietary supplements often contain wheat starch as a filler. (9) It is safest to get advice from a doctor or pharmacist before taking it, or to find out online beforehand whether a preparation contains gluten or not.

How can gluten-containing foods be replaced?

If you no longer want to eat gluten-containing foods, you can of course completely avoid all foods that contain gluten. For many, however, this would mean a severe disruption to normal life, which is why most prefer a substitute diet. With these products, conventional wheat flour or other types of flour are used in products such as B. Simply replace bread or pasta with gluten-free types of flour.

Gluten-free baked goods often contain corn flour, rice flour or buckwheat flour, but the big disadvantage is that they often contain less vital nutrients and fiber than gluten-containing flours. Since gluten has a sticky property, alternative products need thickening agents such as locust bean gum or guar gum so that the dough forms a nice mass.

Noodles made from legumes have better nutritional values, they contain a lot of protein and fiber, which is why they are very healthy. They are also made from 100% legume flour and contain no flavor enhancers or sweeteners. Unfortunately, these products are often much more expensive than other alternatives and therefore not affordable for everyone.

Which cereals are gluten-free?

In addition to the cereals that contain gluten, there are also a lot that are gluten-free and can therefore also be consumed by people with celiac disease. Flour and semolina from these varieties can also be eaten without any problems.

Examples of gluten-free grains include: B. corn, rice, wild rice, millet and the gluten-free pseudo-cereals including amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat. In contrast to real cereals, the so-called pseudo-cereals belong botanically to a different plant family, but they can be used in the kitchen just like real cereals and can even be processed into flour.

Oats

Oats naturally contain very little gluten and can therefore often be consumed by people with celiac disease without problems occurring. However, contamination with other types of grain can occur during production, which is why only products labeled as gluten-free should be used. (Image Source: Polina Tankilevitch / Pexels)

Oats are a special case among gluten-free cereals . Compared to wheat, it contains only a tenth of the proteins and therefore also significantly less gluten.(10) Many people affected by celiac disease therefore tolerate oats very well and can eat them without any subsequent problems. Due to various production processes, however, contamination with other types of grain containing gluten is often very high, which is why, as a precaution, only oats and oat products labeled as gluten-free should be consumed.

In general, however, care should be taken with all products that they are labeled as gluten-free, otherwise the products may be contaminated during production.

How do I recognize gluten-free foods?

Since 2005 certain allergens contained in food must be mentioned on the packaging. This includes grain and products made from it, regardless of the amount of product contained. This also applies to products that are sold unpackaged and contain grain. Here, the information can also be provided orally, but the information must also be available in writing on request. (11)

Products with less than 20 mg gluten per kg may be labeled as gluten-free.

Products that have less than 20 mg gluten per kg product may be labeled with the designation "glutenfrei" or "gluten-free". (12) In addition, the crossed-out ear of corn symbol awarded by the Celiac Society can be displayed on the packaging of gluten-free foods. The labels are voluntary, but they offer consumers a guarantee of gluten-free food and good guidance when purchasing.

Where can gluten-free groceries be bought?

You can now find a shelf or a small department with gluten-free groceries in almost every supermarket. You can often find a larger selection in health food stores, organic markets and in some drugstores. You can find gluten-free food in brick-and-mortar stores at:

  • DM
  • miller
  • Aldi
  • Edeka
  • Real
  • organic markets
  • health food stores

You can also buy a variety of gluten-free foods online on the websites of the various manufacturers and have them sent to your home.

Conclusion

Although a diet with gluten-free foods is considered by many to be healthy, only those who are overweight or diabetic should switch to a gluten-reduced diet and those with celiac disease should switch to a completely gluten-free diet. Only here do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, because a gluten-free diet also means not eating healthy whole grain products, and this type of diet is often expensive.

If, due to one of the diseases mentioned above, gluten protein and thus certain types of grain have to be avoided, there are some good alternatives to conventional products. Many types of grain do not naturally contain gluten and can also be consumed without further ado if you have celiac disease. More and more manufacturers are offering baked goods and similar products made from gluten-free varieties, so that none of the products have to be left out.

Individual proofs(12)

  1. Mini Med Studies: Gluten, Sylvia Neubauer, February 11, 2019. Source
  2. Catassi, Carlo; Gatti, Simona; Fasano, Alessio, The New Epidemiology of Celiac Disease, July 2014, Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, pages 7-9, Doi: 10.1097/01.mpg.0000450393.23156.59. Source
  3. Celiac Disease: What is Celiac Disease? A Brief Description of Gluten Intolerance. Source
  4. German Celiac Society e. V.: Diagnosis and treatment. Source
  5. KrÀuterhaus Sanct Bernhard: Gluten-free nutrition - sensible and healthy?. Source
  6. Long-term gluten consumption in adults without celiac disease and risk of coronary heart disease: prospective cohort study, Benjamin Lebwohl, May 2, 2017, Doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j1892. Source
  7. Core Competence Center for Nutrition: Facts and Figures Gluten in Cereals and Cereal Products, 2015. Source
  8. Pharmacy review: Celiac disease: You should watch out for these gluten traps, Sophie Kelm and Anja Kopf, March 7th, 2019. Source
  9. Pharmacy review: gluten in medicines: what to do?, Dr. Martina Melzer, 05/08/2019. Source
  10. Austrian Association for Celakia: The gluten-free diet. Source
  11. German Celiac Society: The labeling of food. Source
  12. SchÀr: Reliable detection of gluten. Source
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