Somehow in 19 years of running the sourdoughhome web site, we never had a faq for gluten? I probably wanted to avoid the hate mail because someone would send me hate mail telling me I was wrong.
The simple answer is that gluten is a protein formed when glutenin and gladin are mixed together. Gluten is a stretchy protein that traps the gas produced by yeast, sourdough, or other risers allowing the dough to rise.
According to celiac.org, about 1 in 100 people suffer from Celiac disease, which prevents those people from properly digesting gluten. The effects of celiac are horrifying.
There have a been a few controversial studies suggesting there is a non-celiac allergic reaction to gluten. The principals behind one of these studies have changed their opinion and have decided that there is no non-celiac allergic reaction. We at sourdoughhome.com don't dispense medical advice. We're not doctors, and if we were it is unlikely we'd be YOUR doctor. When anyone asks a personal medical question we encourage them to talk to their health care professional.
However, gluten is not the only bad boy on the block. When we had our bakery in Colorado a number of people told us they couldn't eat grocery store bread, but they LOVED our bread. We used commercial flour for most of the time we were in business, and yet we heard again and again that people could eat our bread without problems.
My strong feeling is that Andew Whitley probably has a better handle on this matter than most. When you look at commercial bread it has a host of chemical additives. Individually they are said to be safe, however, no one seems to have tested them in conjunction with one another. Our bread was made from flour, water, salt, a riser (usually sourdough) and time. Long slow rises.
I've read people writing that gluten is killing them. They eliminated gluten from their diet and felt great, and a single hamburger bun all but did them in. However, the commercial burger bun has all the chemical additives alluded to.
I'll quietly suggest that people concerned about what they eat check out Bread Matters, Mr. Whitley's book. One telling comment he makes is when he notices that mass market bakers have been cheapening their products for decades and then complain that no one wants to eat bread any longer.
I hope you'll join me in making good, simple, healthy breads!