What is gluten?

Gluten is a combination of two proteins (glutenin and gliadin) found principally in wheat but also present in barley and rye. Gluten has the unique property, once hydrated, of being able to form a network of long protein molecules. This network provides the right consistency for gas bubbles (produced by the yeast) to be trapped in the dough and gives bread a light, airy texture.

What foods contain gluten?

Gluten is found in products made from wheat flour eg. Bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, flour, pizza bases, cakes and biscuits. Gluten can also be found in other cereals such as barley, spelt, rye, semolina, couscous, bulgur wheat and triticale.

Less obvious sources include foods that use flour as an ingredient such as soups, sauces, ready meals and processed foods such as sausages or products coated in bread crumbs.

Coeliac Disease

Coeliac (pronounced see-liac) disease is an autoimmune disease. Gluten triggers an immune reaction in people who have the condition (coeliacs). Around 1% of people in the UK are intolerant to gluten and may develop coeliac disease.

Coeliac disease is not always easy to recognise but can be diagnosed readily by a doctor identifying a range of symptoms. It impairs the capacity of the small intestine to absorb nutrients from food and can result in diarrhoea and malnutrition. Strict avoidance of gluten in the diet usually results in a rapid improvement of the symptoms and is likely to be the only treatment necessary.

Recent advances in ingredients and recipes have allowed development of gluten-free breads which coeliacs can enjoy. Many large retailers now stock a wide range of these products.

For further information please download our Factsheet No. 13 – Gluten.