What is gluten?
There’s so much talk about gluten-free diets these days that you might be wondering what is gluten and why do so many people talk about being gluten-free!
This little protein (yes, gluten is a protein) has been all the rage in diet circles. Many have to eliminate gluten for their diets, especially those with celiac disease and those with non-celiac gluten sensitivities (NCGS) or gluten intolerances.
So if you’re wondering, “What is Gluten?” then you came to the right place for answers.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It gives breads that elastic, spongy texture, and is found in foods like cereal, pastas and cakes. Think of gluten as the “glue” that holds foods together (the word “gluten” literally means “glue” in Latin). Gluten is that sticky substance that binds pastas, breads, bagels, cakes, muffins, cookies and other foods together. Because gluten is often considered an all purpose stabilizer, food manufacturers add it to a lot of foods to give it better texture and taste. That’s why gluten is found in random places like salad dressings, gravies and even lipsticks and medications!
Gluten is everywhere and often hard to detect. Gluten comes in many forms like malt, MSG and in fermented alcohols. It is often hidden in things like licorice (wheat flour is the first ingredient in many mainstream licorice brands) and soy sauce, which is about 40% wheat! In this article, I uncover 10 Surprise Products that Contain Gluten – it’s in places you probably never thought of before! I also created a free download called 100 Alternative Names for Gluten.
How Do You Avoid Gluten?
The best way to avoid gluten is to eat naturally gluten-free foods that you prepare at home. Naturally gluten-free foods are often some of the best foods for you too! Here is a short list of naturally gluten-free foods:
- Dark Chocolate (pure chocolate – beware of add-ins)
- Kasha (buckwheat)
Also read my list of 10 Naturally Gluten-Free Foods Every Celiac Should Be Eating for more details on these foods and how they impact your body/health.
If at all possible, I suggest you prepare and eat food at home if you’re avoiding gluten. When you eat out, your risk of getting glutened is high. Restaurant kitchens can usually accommodate you, but they are minefields for cross contamination. If the chef is handling sandwich bread, then s/he touches the lettuce on your dish, you can get sick. Likewise, just because something is gluten-free doesn’t mean it was prepared in a gluten-free way. Shared fryers in restaurants are notorious for cross contaminating your foods. French fries, which are made of potatoes and are naturally gluten-free, are often cooked in a shared fryer along with chicken nuggets, which are not gluten-free. This means the same exact oil used to cook gluten cooked your gluten-free food too.
(I use my Nima Sensor to test my food for gluten these days, but I realize not everyone has access to this nifty gadget._
What Does Wheat-Free vs. Gluten-Free Mean?
When something is marked wheat-free, it simply means it contains no wheat. However, wheat-free doesn’t mean it’s gluten-free. Gluten is found in things like barley and rye as well – so while the product may not have wheat in it, it still contains gluten. Don’t be fooled into thinking something is gluten-free when it’s only labeled as “wheat-free.”
Why Is Gluten Bad for Some People?
You may not just be wondering what is gluten, but also you may be wondering why gluten is bad for some people, particularly those of us suffering from celiac disease. Many other people follow a gluten-free diet, either because they are sensitive to gluten or have a gluten-allergy or intolerance of sorts. Many people turn to the gluten-free diet after suffering from some sort of digestive distress or one of the other 10 symptoms of celiac disease.
Gluten is bad for some people because it is very difficult to digest and some experts even believe gluten is toxic to all humans. It takes a lot of acid in our stomach to break down the hard-to-digest protein. Oftentimes the gluten protein goes through the stomach without being properly broken down by the stomach acid. When it enters the small intestine, large gluten proteins then escape into our bloodstream and become free radicals. Free radicals wreak havoc throughout our bodies – usually causing inflammation at a place where we are genetically weak.
The body reacts to the gluten by attacking it, as in the case of celiac disease, an autoimmune disease. Others suffer from things like “leaky gut” because the gluten particles dig holes in the intestinal lining so they can escape into the bloodstream. Such fee radicals cause chronic inflammation, digestive distress and even pain in various parts of our bodies depending on where they set up shop.