Cornbread with butter drizzled on top is a classic American treat, but you might hesitate to eat it if you are concerned about its gluten content. Although most Americans consume foods containing gluten every day, trouble-free, some suffer side effects, including bloating and irritation of the small intestine. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that makes you sick whenever you eat gluten. Symptoms of celiac disease include weight loss, pain and lethargy.
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Glutens are proteins contained in wheat, barley and rye foodstuffs. Rice and corn are grains that are naturally gluten free. Corn does contain some amino acids or building blocks of proteins, but it doesn't have the same ones that cause digestive problems in some humans. Glutens in wheat provide the elasticity that helps form bread and gives a satisfying chew to pizza dough. Corn flour doesn't have the glue-like quality of wheat flour, so you typically add a binder such as eggs to corn flour dough to keep it intact when baking.
Corn flour works well as a substitute for wheat flour and provides a pleasant, slightly gritty texture to breads and cakes. If you just want to cut down on the amount of gluten in your breads, pancakes or tortillas, you can mix corn flour together with wheat flour to get a product that holds together well but also has a distinct corn flavor. You can use corn flour as a thickener in stews and soups, but be aware that it will impart its flavor profile to your foods.
Corn meal and corn flours were staples in Native American cultures before Europeans adopted it as a crop. Corn also had its public relation problems when Europeans who relied on corn as a staple developed pellagra. Now understood as the result of an incomplete processing of corn grain, pellagra results from niacin deficiency, and symptoms include insomnia, aggression and intolerance of sunlight. Native Americans in Mexico soaked corn in lime water, a process that liberated niacin and made it available for absorption. When purchasing corn products, check the packaging information to make sure the only starches or flour used are from corn, not blends of different grains.
Following a gluten-free diet is mandatory for those people diagnosed with an existing disorder or sensitivity, but you might elect to avoid gluten for other reasons. The breads, pastries and pastas that contain gluten also can be calorie-dense, so reducing consumption of those foods can help weight loss efforts. Merely substituting gluten-containing cakes with those that are gluten-free will not aid weight loss efforts. Many foods containing gluten are fortified with vitamins and minerals. By eliminating all gluten from your diet, you can also inadvertently lower important nutrients such as folate in your daily intake, so talk with your health care provider or nutritionist before embarking on a totally gluten-free diet.