What is Gluten?

It is absolutely astonishing to think how much gluten exists in our foods and in the common diet.  I mean, somehow, it has found its way into most everything you can imagine.  In fact, I often find when talking with patients, that there is gluten in every single meal.

 

“Where is the gluten?,” you might be asking.

 

Think of it this way, what do most people eat everyday?

Breakfast: cereal and/or toast

Lunch: sandwich and/or soup

Dinner: pasta, pizza and/or bread

Dessert: cookies, cake and/or pie

 

Each of the foods just mentioned (unless they are the gluten-free version) contain gluten.

 

Let’s step back a bit and ask: what is a grain?  I find that grains are not often something people talk about.

 

Grains are foods made from wheat, corn, barley, oat, rice, millet, quinoa, and amaranth.  Examples are bread, pasta, tortillas, cereal, and cookies.

 

So then, what is gluten?  Gluten is a protein in certain grains: wheat, rye, barley and oats. Gluten is what makes bread soft and chewy.

 

Even more specifically, there are two main proteins in gluten, gliadins and glutenins.  One particular gliadin, found in wheat, is what leads to celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.

 

Barley and rye contain a gliadin that looks very similar to the one in wheat, and therefore, when the body reacts to wheat gluten, it usually reacts to barley and rye gluten too.  Oat gluten is slightly different, but also often causes the same reaction.

 

What is the bottom line?  To avoid gluten, you need to stop eating anything made from wheat flour.  Not just “whole wheat.”  Anything that says “wheat” in the list of ingredients.  Then you also need to avoid rye, barley and oats.

 

Wheat flour and gluten are also often found in foods that you might not think of as containing wheat.  For example, soy sauce and many other sauces, as well as gravy and soups, contain gluten.  In the case of sauces and soups, gluten makes them thick and creamy.

 

Gluten is a nice thing in cooking and baking; It makes foods look and taste good.  However, in the human body, especially in people who have an allergic response to gluten, too much (or even a little) is not a good thing.

 

After repeated exposure (every meal, or most every meal, for years and years), and stress in general (which we all have), many people (many more then are actually diagnosed) start reacting to gluten.

 

For some people the reaction begins at an early age (less then 1 in some cases).  For others, it may be later in life (I see patients of all ages who have discovered that they have a gluten sensitivity).

 

It is almost impossible to imagine that the foods we love, like bread and pizza, might actually be causing our health problems.  It is as if we think we will have nothing to eat if not for gluten.  And for good reason.  It is in most everything that is commonly served and sold in stores and restaurants.

 

In reality, it is BECAUSE most all of our foods contain gluten that so many of us (myself included) have become sensitive to it.

 

The wonderful news is that there ARE many foods available that do NOT contain gluten.  It takes a bit of a shift in thinking about what to eat, but there is no doubt in my mind that we can live without gluten.

 

Actually, at this point, we can’t live with it.