Bread plays an important role in the UK diet and gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, is considered an important constituent for both bread-making and as a source of dietary protein. During dough-making, gluten forms a protein network that imparts unique viscoelastic properties that give the characteristic foam structure to the dough (1). The dough’s elasticity also gives the chewiness to the bread.
Gluten in the diet, however, is not an option for some. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects approximately 1 in 100 people in the UK. If celiac patients consume gluten-containing products in the diet, they experience an intestinal mucosal inflammation. The inflammation arises due to the immune system recognising the gluten products in the intestine as foreign bodies, causing it to also attack healthy tissues in the intestines. The inflammation and damage to the intestinal walls can lead to the inability to absorb the required levels of calcium, iron, folic acid and fat soluble vitamins. Deficiencies in these elements can lead to conditions such as osteoporosis (weakened bones) and anaemia in patients (2). A Gluten-free diet is advisable for people with celiac disease, wheat allergies and gluten sensitivity. Nowadays, even gluten-tolerant customers are shifting to gluten-free diets as many perceive it to be healthier and more effective in weight reduction (3). Hence this, along with increased diagnosis for gluten-intolerance, has led to the demand for gluten-free bread to rise greatly.
The increase in the consumption of gluten-free bread by those that are tolerant to gluten is largely due to a lack of informed knowledge on the product. A common perception is that a gluten-free diet helps in reducing obesity, has better digestive and nutritional attributes and is of higher quality (3 and 4). Research has suggested it might be a better option for consumers to opt for gluten-free bread due to its lower salt content. However, gluten-free products are starch-based food with lower protein levels and a higher fat content (5), and lead to an unbalanced diet. This is a major cause for concern; especially for people with a gluten sensitivity and no alternative replacement. Though a diet with low salt content is desirable, the bread consumed should also have certain nutritional attributes as bread is widely consumed and is a vital source of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals (6).
Further studies are required to enhance the nutritional qualities of gluten-free bread and other products so that consumers with gluten sensitivity, and those who choose a gluten-free diet, are provided with the same nutritional quality of bread. Efforts are now being made worldwide to also reduce the salt content in regular bread so that consumers without gluten sensitivity have the option of bread with reduced salt content without having to switch to gluten-free bread. With the further development of non-gluten containing bread, we can expect equal health benefits for all.
By Sunandita Ghosh, MSc Food Science
(1) Buresova, I. et al. 2014. The relationship between rheological characteristics of gluten-free dough and the quality of biologically leavened bread. Journal of Cereal Science. 60(2), pp.271-275.
(2) Krupa-Kozak, U. et al. 2012. Breadmaking performance and technological characteristic of gluten-free bread with inulin supplemented with calcium salts. European Food Research and Technology. 235(3), pp.545-554.
(3) Miranda, J. et al. 2014. Nutritional Differences Between a Gluten-free Diet and a Diet Containing Equivalent Products with Gluten. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition. 69(2), pp.182-187.
(4) Sharma, G.M. et al. 2015. Gluten detection in foods available in the United States – A market survey. Food Chemistry. 169, pp.120-126.
(5) Segura, M.E.M. and Rosell, C.M. 2011. Chemical Composition and Starch Digestibility of Different Gluten-free Breads. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition. 66(3), pp.224-230.
(6) Quilez, J. and Salas-Salvado, J. 2012. Salt in bread in Europe: potential benefits of reduction. Nutrition Reviews. 70(11), pp.666-678.