Research projects in Manhattan, KS and Madrid, Spain are working to determine which reactive wheat proteins affect people with celiac disease, according to Food Business News. The work is proceeding slowly — of the hundreds of proteins that make up wheat gluten, only a few have the reactive properties that lead to celiac disease.
Researchers in Madrid found that certain varieties of wheat cause different responses in celiac patients, suggesting that certain breeding techniques could eventually lead to the creation of a celiac-safe wheat variety.
Close to 1% of the U.S. population has celiac disease, and many Americans with gluten intolerances or wheat allergies also benefit from gluten-free diets.
It's difficult for consumers with celiac disease to maintain a gluten-free diet. Those affected by the disease need to avoid wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye), ingredients that are included in many food product applications, including categories like canned soup and salad dressing.
This reaction to gluten damages consumers' villi — small, hairlike projections in the wall of the intestine. If the villi are damaged, people can't absorb all the nutrients they need. If the problem is ignored, serious consequences can result.
The past few years have seen an explosion of gluten-free products and people following gluten-free diets — many of them doing so unnecessarily. Many of these non-celiac, gluten-free consumers see gluten as a general health risk, though few actually know what gluten is or how it affects their system.
Unnecessary gluten avoidance can keep people from getting the nutrients they need, such as B vitamins, which bread is fortified with. Still, this trend continues to grow, and more and more manufacturers are scrambling to add new gluten-free offerings to their portfolios or reformulate existing products.
If a celiac-free wheat variety were introduced, this would solve a lot of problems for Americans who have the disease and other gluten intolerances. It would also ease pressure on manufacturers trying to find wheat alternatives to applications like bread, pancake mix and others that tend to fall flat without flour.