What is Gluten and Why is Gluten an Issue?

Dr. Doni explains gluten and where it may exist in your diet.

Gluten is the protein in certain grains and often finds its way into every meal of the day.

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

What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye, barley, and spelt. 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 often also causes the same reaction.

Let’s look at common foods and meals that contain gluten:

  • Breakfast: cereal and/or toast
  • Lunch: sandwich and/or soup
  • Dinner: pasta, pizza and/or bread
  • Dessert: cookies, cake and/or pie

Why is gluten an issue? 

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 immune response to gluten, too much (or even a little) is not a good thing. Read more about the trouble gluten causes here.

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 years of age 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.

Once the immune system starts reacting to gluten, a number of symptoms can result anywhere in the body, and leaky gut develops, leading to subsequent health issues. Read about how to tell if you have gluten sensitivity here.

How do I 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 spelt.

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.

For more help with going gluten free, be sure to read this post – Starting Out on a Gluten Free Quest.

In summary…
At first it can be hard 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.