Gluten is a protein that is found in several grains including oats, wheat, and barley. Despite some conflicting statements, there is no gluten in maize, a grain that is also known as corn. The conflict has arisen due to the fact that not all maize-based products are safe for people with celiac disease, or gluten intolerance. Several off-the-shelf products made from a maize base also contain ingredients that contain gluten. It is therefore very important that ingredient lists are studied prior to purchasing any maize-based food product for a person who is intolerant of gluten. There is no naturally occurring gluten in maize, quinoa, or amaranth, among other alternative grains.
Celiac disease is an immunity-related illness with no cure other than to manage gluten intake. The disease affects the small intestine, restricting the intake of nutrients from food. Some symptoms of celiac disease include vomiting or nausea, abdominal discomfort including digestive issues, and weight loss with a risk of malnutrition. Even a small quantity of gluten can trigger these symptoms in those who are intolerant to the protein, and it is therefore essential that only gluten-free foods are used in their daily diets.
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The precise factor in the protein that causes the reaction in people suffering from celiac disease is a component known as the prolamine fraction. Different grains contain different prolamine fractions as a part of their gluten content. For example, oats contain the fraction avenin, while the wheat-based prolamine fraction is known as gliadin. As there is no gluten in maize, there is also no prolamine fraction and therefore no risk to those with gluten intolerance.
Naturally, there is no gluten in maize in either its raw, prepared, or milled form. Where caution must be exercised is when the maize or corn has been combined with another ingredient that contains gluten. This occurrence is most common in commercially available maize cereals where the grain is often mixed with extracted malt from the barley grain. Barley is one of the grains that contains a gluten protein; in this case, it is the prolamine fraction, hordein.
Maize is not the only available alternative to grains containing gluten. Quinoa and amaranth are both very healthy, nutritious grains that contain no gluten and can be used in a multitude of food applications. There is also no gluten in maize or corn flour, which can be used in baking. Other flours such as millet flour, buckwheat flour, and rice flour are also viable alternatives to wheat and oat-based products. Not all gluten-free products are marketed as such, so it is important to possess a good understanding of ingredients that are free of gluten.