Gluten and Flour
We’ve identified gluten as a potential cause of leaky gut syndrome, chronic inflammation and possibly a key factor in autoimmune diseases. Gluten is found in anything made from wheat, barely or rye including breads, cupcakes, muffins, bagels, cakes and the like. However, these things do not contain the same levels of concentration of gluten due to differences in flour composition. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common flours, what they are used for and how full of gluten they are.
Before we get into the different types of flours, let’s talk about a few common terms associated with the processing of grains into flours. Grinding grains into a fine powder makes flours. Over the years, processors have further refined grains by removing portions of the hull before grinding and have found that adding certain chemicals to the flour can change the color, texture or both.
Refined vs. Whole
When someone says that a flour is “refined”, they don’t mean that the flour likes classical music and afternoon tea. The term refined is referring to how much of the grain has been removed prior to grinding. Wheat and other flour grains have three parts: the bran, the endosperm, and the germ. The bran, or hull, is the outer layer and contains most of the grain’s fiber. The endosperm is the largest portion and contains most of the carbohydrate of the grain — it is the energy storage for the germ. The germ is the portion of the grain that actually sprouts.
Refined grains have had the bran and the germ removed so that the endosperm is all that remains. This will render the finished product softer in texture and lighter in color. It also removes almost all of the fiber and B vitamins found in the grain. Most of the gluten found in bread is in the endosperm so refining does not make grains any safer from a gluten perspective.
Whole grain flour is just that – whole. In this process, the complete grain has been ground into flour so it contains the bran, endosperm and germ. This results in flour that is tougher in texture and darker in color. The resulting product will be more fibrous, contain more B vitamins and be tougher than products made from refined flours. The gluten content, however, is similar in refined and whole-wheat products.
Bleaching refers to adding a chemical that actually makes the flour lighter in color. Though chlorine gas is one of the things used to bleach grains, the term comes from the color-changing properties, not because actual bleach is used. There are many different agents used to bleach grains including benzoyl peroxide, chlorine gas, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and azodicarbonamide. If you choose to continue to eat grains, you should try to avoid any processed with azodicarbonamide because it transforms into two potentially carcinogenic compounds when baked.
Another process commonly employed by grain producers is maturing. Maturing is the process of adding a chemical agent to the grain to increase or decrease the development of gluten. Because gluten is the protein in flour responsible for much of the texture of baked goods, its development will affect the texture of the final product. Some common maturing agents are potassium bromate, ascorbic acid, chlorine gas, and azodicarbonamide. You’ll notice that some of these are both bleaching agents and maturing agents. Potassium bromate should be avoided if possible for the same reasons as azodicarbonamide: it can cause cancer in humans.
Types of Flours (In Order of Gluten Content)
As the name implies, this flour is used for making cakes and has the finest texture and lowest gluten content of all of the common flour types. It is so fine that it almost has a silky texture. Because of its very low protein (gluten) content, it is mostly starch and yields very soft and fluffy products. It is roughly 6-7 percent gluten by weight.
Though it has very similar properties to cake flour, pastry flour is more well-suited for the specific texture of pastries – crisp but soft. Both cake and pastry flours can be used to make cookies, cakes, pastries, and crackers. Pastry flour is roughly 9 percent gluten.
This, as you may have guessed, is the most commonly used flour. It is about 11 percent gluten and is the flour usually used to make breads. Because of the higher gluten content, it will yield a denser, tougher product than pastry or cake flour.
Whole Grain Flour
This is flour ground from the whole grain, not just the endosperm. Because the bran or hull is included, products made using whole grain flour will be even more dense and tough than products made with all-purpose flour. Whole grain flour is typically unbleached as well so the baked goods will be darker than products made from the other types of flour.
So, flours are not very interestingly named. High-gluten flour is upwards of 15 percent gluten. This flour is also most often used for bread making but is not as commonly used as all-purpose flour. The higher protein content means lower carbohydrate content so it is sometimes used to make breads for diabetics.
They All Contain Gluten
It would be wonderful to say that cakes, due to the low gluten content of cake flour, are not causing the same problems as other baked goods. However, even this small concentration of gluten in cake flour is still probably enough to cause at least temporary leaky gut issues. That means that the gluten in all of the other flours will as well.
As we’ve said before, the best way to protect yourself from the gluten in baked goods is to simply stop eating them. Of course, this is not as simple as it sounds. Not only are these foods delicious, they are everywhere in our food supply. Unless you are able to completely eliminate baked goods and the other bad actors from your diet, we recommend taking DigestShield® to prevent them from doing damage.