What is Gluten?

22 December 2021

Gluten is a protein naturally produced in some grains like wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten has some culinary functions like making grain-based foods soft and chewy. In bread, the gluten proteins become stretchy or elastic to trap gas that is produced from the yeast fermentation. This lets the bread rise and retain moisture so it is pleasant to the taste.

Because of its ability to make some things taste better, it is often added to processed foods to make them tastier, keep them stable, or to thicken them. Some of those items can be:

  • Barley malt
  • Malt vinegar
  • Soy sauce
  • Some salad dressings
  • Some spice blends
  • Flavored chips
  • Beer
  • Some veggie burgers or meat substitutes


Oats are often processed with the same machinery that deals with wheat. So if you want to be sure, check the label for gluten free oats.

Your primary care physician may recommend you try a gluten free diet to assist in weight loss. But there are some individuals who have medical conditions that require a gluten free diet as part of their treatment.

  • Celiac Disease – This is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the small intestine.
  • Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity – These are people who have tested negative for celiac disease but but have similar symptoms. There is not a lot of information about this condition but the symptoms are abated when the person avoids gluten. Studies are ongoing.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome – It is not understood why avoiding gluten helps people with IBS, but sometimes it does.
  • Wheat Allergy – This is when wheat or wheat products cause an allergic reaction. This is the entire wheat not just the gluten protein like the other condition.

There are a lot of symptoms of gluten intolerance and often the disease or condition goes undiagnosed. Here are some of the indicators:

  • Digestive issues
  • Skin problems like rash or inflammation
  • Neurological including confusion and fatigue
  • Weight issues

If you suspect you have some sensitivity to gluten, there are still many things you can eat.

  • Fruits and vegetables, especially fresh. Frozen, canned in water or its own juice, or unsweetened and dried are all good choices, but read labels to be sure. Anything processed can contain glutens.
  • Proteins – Meat, including red meat; poultry; pork; lamb; nuts and seeds, and tofu and edamame.
  • Dairy – Plain and unflavored and free of additives.
  • Fats – Most fats are gluten free but check anything like cooking sprays for additives.

The bottom line is to avoid processed or flavored items.

If you feel you have some problems with gluten, make an appointment with your primary care physician. In the meantime, keep a food diary of everything you eat and reactions. It is just as important to know what doesn’t make you uncomfortable or ill as it is to know what affects your daily life. Finding the right balance can alleviate symptoms.

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