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Are hydrolyzed wheat products suitable for those with gluten sensitivity?

In a recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers from the UK investigated how hydrolyzed wheat products were tolerated by individuals with gluten sensitivity.

Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat products, barley, rye, and spelt.

Gluten can be found in bread, cereals, pasta, and processed foods; however, some people do not tolerate gluten well.

Two main categories of gluten intolerance

There are two main categories of gluten intolerance: celiac disease and gluten sensitivities.

Celiac disease is an inherited condition that causes the body to respond to gluten by mounting an immune response that attacks and damages the villi, tiny finger-like projections lining the small intestine that facilitate nutrient absorption.

As a result, when individuals with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten, not only can it lead to gastrointestinal upset such as belching, diarrhea, cramping, flatulence, nausea, and vomiting, but it can also have a serious and negative impact on their health. Thus, they opt for trying healthy meals without gluten to avoid such symptoms.

Yet, after experimenting with their diet, some people self-diagnose themselves as having gluten sensitivity.

In these cases, individuals may experience some degree of gastrointestinal discomfort after consuming gluten without the concomitant autoimmune damage. 

Additionally, some people state that, while they have no problem eating foods that contain gluten, they simply feel better when they avoid it.

Consequently, the demand for gluten-free products has been growing exponentially.

Food makers have remade traditional wheat products with starch from rice, corn, and potatoes as well as xanthan and guar gums to reproduce gluten’s elasticity.

Unfortunately, these products often do not contain the fiber, minerals, and B vitamins of wheat flour.

Testing Gluten-Free Wheat Products

Over the course of the last 10-15 years, researchers have been working to degrade the gluten in wheat flour using various processes such as exposing the flour to bacteria, in a manner similar to sourdough fermentation, or enzymes that digest the flour’s gluten protein. 

The end product is referred to as hydrolyzed wheat and it contains far less gluten than regular wheat products.

One method of hydrolyzing wheat is using the enzyme Aspergillus niger prolyl endoprotease (ANPEP).

This enzyme can be used to reduce the gluten content of bread without sacrificing taste, texture, or appearance.

What does the research say about it?

Research is warranted to ensure that hydrolyzed wheat bread is safe for individuals with gluten sensitivity.

In a recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers from the UK conducted a double-blind, randomized study to investigate how hydrolyzed wheat bread was tolerated by individuals with gluten sensitivity.

For the trial, 28 volunteers, 16 with self-reported gluten sensitivity and 12 without, consumed four wheat products: normal bread, bread treated with 0·8 or 1 % ANPEP, or low-protein bread made from biscuit flour. 

How was the study conducted?

Throughout the study, each participant kept a diary of what they ate and how they felt.

They found that those individuals who are self-defined as being sensitive to gluten differ from healthy controls in several measurable ways and show an increase in the severity of gastrointestinal symptoms when challenged with normal bread.

The ANPEP bread failed to show any significant improvement in gastrointestinal comfort.

This may be due to levels of gluten in ANPEP bread being insufficiently reduced to keep the gastrointestinal symptoms to pre-treatment levels.

Written by Debra A. Kellen, PhD


(1) Rees, D., Holtrop, G., Chope, G., Moar, K. M., Cruickshank, M., & Hoggard, N. (2018). A randomized, double-blind, cross-over trial to evaluate bread, in which gluten has been pre-digested by prolyl endoprotease treatment, in subjects self-reporting benefits of adopting a gluten-free or low-gluten diet. British Journal of Nutrition119(5), 496-506. doi:10.1017/S0007114517003749
(2) Celiac Disease Foundation.

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

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