Researchers trying to understand why some people have more severe wheat-related health problems than others, and with different products, have found new clues in how the grain's proteins, including gluten, change when cooked and digested. 

Gianfranco Mamone and colleagues say that boiling pasta releases some of its potential allergens, while other proteins persist throughout cooking and digestion. Their findings lend new insights that could ultimately help celiac patients and people allergic to wheat.

Pasta is one of the most popular foods in Europe and the U.S. and though going gluten-free has become a fad diet, 98 percent of people can eat it without a problem. But for those with wheat allergies or celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to gluten, cutting the grain out of their diets is necessary to minimize symptoms which can include abdominal pain, diarrhea and, in the long run, damage to the small intestines. 

Studying proteins in pasta lends insights into how they affect people with celiac disease and wheat allergies. Credit: Andrii Gorulko/iStock/Thinkstock

Mamone's team set out to gain a better understanding of what happens to the potentially trouble-making proteins in pasta when it's cooked and consumed. In the lab, the researchers cooked store-bought pasta and simulated how the body would digest it. They found that while some gluten proteins persisted throughout the cooking and digestion process, other allergenic non-gluten proteins are lost during boiling as they almost completely leak into the cooking water.

This suggests that for people with particular types of wheat allergies unrelated to celiac disease, eating pasta might cause a weaker reaction than wheat products that are baked, the researchers say. Their findings also contribute to understanding the chemistry of gluten digestion. 

Why 75 percent of people claiming gluten intolerance show no symptoms in tests remains a mystery.

Published in  the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Funded by the BBSRC and Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance.