Pizza

A Guide to Gluten-free Pizza

gluten-free pizza with avocado toppings

The last decade has seen an increase in the popularity of gluten-free diet options. More and more people seem to be adopting this trend but its popularity isn’t unwarranted. Far from it, this increased awareness is directly linked with a rise in the diagnosis of the celiac disease as well as documented cases of clinical gluten sensitivity. Almost every recipe that includes cereal grain like wheat, rye, and barley, has been, at one point or another, altered into a gluten-free version, and pizza is no different. Gluten-free pizza is safe for consumption for someone with a gluten intolerance, or more accurately, the dough used to make gluten-free pizza is gentle enough that it can be digested in your stomach if you have celiacs.

But before we get into how gluten-free pizza is made, we’ll explore what gluten is, as well as the role it plays in the celiac disease. Additionally, in the paragraphs that follow, we’ll also breakdown the science behind it, along with a few benefits of eating gluten-free pizza.

What exactly is gluten?

So what is gluten? Well, at the most fundamental level, gluten is just a naturally-occurring protein most commonly found in cereal crops like wheat, barley, rye, and oats. Gluten is essentially what creates the stringy strands in the dough after yeast ferment it. And gluten has this mouthfeel and texture that is combined with a powdery flavor — not unlike the chewy flavor of corn starch. Other than its texture and unremarkable taste, gluten itself doesn’t have a particular appearance or color, so to find out if your food contains a source of gluten, a consumer has to find out by themselves.

Is gluten not for you?

More often than not, people who wish to exclude gluten from their diet, are attempting to manage celiacs or similar medical conditions. But some people follow a gluten-free diet because of its alleged benefits — better health, weight loss, and elevated energy levels. That being said, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to back these so-called health benefits. In any case, when you go gluten-free, you’re also cutting off a source for certain nutrients, like fibers and vitamins. So regardless of the purported benefits, a gluten-free diet will impact your nutritional requirements.

Gluten Intolerance

Now that we have an understanding of what gluten is, we’ll take a look into why a gluten-free diet is essential to manage certain medical conditions. Gluten causes the body to respond using its own immune system and the response gradually damages the patient’s small intestine to a point where the intestine can no longer effectively absorb the digested nutrients. Their body mistakenly considers the protein as a disease-causing threat and starts producing antibodies against it, which may lead to congestion, breathing difficulties, diarrhea, headaches, muscle ache and loss of muscle control. This pattern is called an autoimmune disorder and celiac disease is one such disorder.

Is gluten-free pizza a good alternative?

When a good chunk of our everyday diet has one gluten source or another, it becomes increasingly difficult for someone with gluten sensitivity to live a strict gluten-free lifestyle. While only six percent of the general population suffers from celiac, a lot of people experience the symptoms mentioned above if they consume gluten. And as this concern grows, the food industry is offering gluten-free alternatives. More and more restaurants, delivery systems, and chains have included gluten-free options in their menus, including gluten-free pizza. Regular pizza is made using flour, salt, oil, and yeast to ferment that flour. Even a single tiny bread crumb is enough to trigger the autoimmune response described enough but eating a whole crust or even a slice of it can wreak havoc on your system if you have celiacs.

How is gluten-free pizza made?

Unlike traditional pizza crust, however, the gluten-free variety isn’t made from wheat flour, nor does it include barley or rye. Instead, the dough is made from rice flour, tapioca flour, rice starch, potato starch, sugar-cane salt, olive oil, and of course, the crucial ingredient, yeast. Aside from crusts that use rice and tapioca flour base, you’ll also come across ground cauliflower-based pizza and protein flour-based (chickpea or almond) pizza.

These ingredients bring gluten levels down to 20 parts per million, making it safe for consumption for celiac patients. Note that any pizza advertised as gluten-free is required to meet these levels, so you can rest easy knowing that the pizza you’re eating has safe (or at least relatively safer) levels of gluten. The reason we say is ‘relatively’ safe, is because, for someone with celiac, there are no safe levels of gluten consumption, even if it is advertised as ‘gluten-free’. On the other hand, if you have gluten sensitivity or intolerance, gluten-free pizza crust should be a safe bet for you.

But does it taste the same? Unfortunately, not always. As described above, gluten is the one ingredient that gives the crust that familiar chewy and fluffy texture and in its absence, the crust can end up tasting like pasty cardboard. But the blends mentioned above (if baked into a crust right) can make your gluten-free pizza taste just as good as traditional pizza.

Benefits of a gluten-free diet

Last but not least, is there any truth to the supposed health benefits of a strictly gluten-free diet? If you don’t have celiacs or any kind of gluten-intolerance, no study directly links the exclusion of gluten from your diet to weight loss. The idea is pretty straightforward. Unhealthy foods are unhealthy, regardless of their gluten content. While a gluten-free diet might not help you achieve your weight loss goals, there are certain benefits of such diet, such as clearer skin, improved energy levels, lower cholesterol levels, lowered risk of cancer, and prevention against bloating.

Final Thoughts

To wrap this post up, it’s a commonly held misconception that gluten is inherently bad for you and that you should limit your gluten consumption. While that is certainly true for people with certain health conditions, a gluten-free diet won’t benefit you as much as making healthier life choices will. But if you do suffer from gluten intolerance, you don’t have to give up eating pizza because the food industry has your back with their just as good gluten-free alternatives.

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