Georgofili World

Newsletter of the Georgofili Academy

GLUTEN-FREE foods

Gluten-free are the magic words for the continuously increasing market of gluten-free products. In 2013, it was 3.7 billion dollars and is projected to reach 6.2 billion dollars in 2018. At first it was chemist's shops, now it is the supermarkets that are participating in this high-priced sales growth that seems unstoppable and, if not guided, is at least encouraged by those who say they have a gluten-free diet. Meanwhile, the shelves of bookshops increasingly display books that explain how to live and lose weight by eliminating gluten.
Supermarket shelves are filled with gluten-free products. The words also appear on foods, like chocolate bars, that do not contain gluten because “gluten-free”, just like other “-free” descriptions, seem to be today’s magic words for selling well.
In distant times long forgotten, bakeries had signs or posters advertising glutinate pastries, preparate according to an idea by Giovanni Buitoni in 1847. From the end of that century up to the mid-twentieth, a gluten pastry, a dough to which dry gluten was added by weight of 15%, entered the homes of Italians as "the best food for children, the sick and convalescents, the product for regimens for the obese, gouty, hyperuricemia sufferers and diabetics" and with advertisements that said "breast milk is no longer enough, now it takes gluten dough!" "The payoff at school depends on good health. Good health is protected with a gluten pastry".
Even in a new fashion of foods “without” something, offering a food today that claims the addition of gluten, like salt or sugar, would be like adding "poison".
All this because, in the second half of the last century, celiac disease was discovered, a new disease, on which there has been and continues to be a lot of confusion.
Celiac disease is an ancient disease caused by cereal gluten, conditioned by a genetic predisposition, and of which there are prehistoric traces. It is defined by the presence of intestinal lesions provoked by the body’s autoimmune attack to gluten, a protein complex of cereals, with the presence of certain antibodies in the blood. Apart from the symptoms which may well not be there or be very slight, only if there are lesions and antibodies can celiac disease be diagnosed. The disease seems quite rare and, in any case, it does not affect more than one percent of the world’s population. On the other hand, in Italy, strangely, in different regions it varies from 2.5% (Abruzzo) to 17% (Lombardy) for a total of more than one hundred and fifty thousand people. However, are they all real cases of celiac disease?
Besides the true celiac disease, there are other conditions that can be confused with this disease. Medicine has recognized an allergy to other components of wheat (not to gluten) and there is irritable bowel syndrome, which has nothing to do with wheat.
The “real” celiac disease seems on the rise and the reasons are undoubtedly different. Primarily a disease exists if you know it and it is diagnosed! Other conditions favoring the increase in cases of celiac disease are the complete disappearance of intestinal parasites, the habit of eating little cooked, or "al dente", pasta, and especially with bread no longer made with sourdough, whose acidity appears to reduce the sensitization activities of gluten. The amount of gluten in cereals however does not seem to be the problem!
One indisputable fact is that if gluten is an enemy for the minority of people who really suffer from celiac disease, the overwhelming majority following a gluten-free diet do not suffer from the celiac disease but from other ailments. In fact, a certain percentage of people have difficulty digesting the gluten in pasta cooked al dente or the bread made with a rapid non-acid fermentation using beer yeast, with the result of fermentation in the large intestine.
Where does the commercial success of gluten-free products come from?
Undoubtedly, without denying the existence and importance of the "real" celiac disease and confirming that gramineous plants are not the culprit, but rather the problem is how their flours are transformed into bread and cooked as pasta, the growth in the "gluten-free" products depends mostly on publicity and especially business.
We must not forget that the price of a "gluten-free" product is always significantly higher than the price of “normal" food without real and justified technological reasons, but otherwise. In Italy, the products "gluten-free" are considered therapeutic diet foods subsidized by the Health Service, with the result that, with the state paying, the price of these products remains high, and with the increase of the number of celiac disease diagnoses and therefore, of the sufferers of celiac disease, their price instead of going down as it would for those on the free market, remains constant, and, if anything, increases, as seen in recent years.