Whether you’re curious, inflamed or Celiac, “gluten-free” is an increasing trend in food. What is gluten? Is it healthier to not eat gluten? What products is gluten found in? If you’ve ever asked any of these questions, keep reading to find out everything you need to know about gluten.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein within the endosperm of wheat and similar grasses. When these grasses are processed to make flour, this protein then forms the “glue” (gluten is actually Latin for glue) that holds doughs together and give it its elasticity and chewy texture.
More specifically, wheat gluten is made up of 2 sub-proteins called gliadin and glutenin. Gluten can refer to the same protective, gluey protein surrounding any grain, but the sub-proteins are different. For this reason, it’s generally understood that gluten only refers to wheat and similar grasses, including rye and barley.
Is it healthier to not consume Gluten?
There are 3 health conditions that benefit from a gluten-free diet:
- Celiac disease (aka Celiac Sprue) is a condition that cannot properly metabolize gluten resulting in many adverse side effects. This is diagnosed with lab tests and a small intestine biopsy.
- Gluten sensitivity is an increasingly common condition that can be directly attributed to the consumption of gluten. Symptoms can include digestive upset, headaches, joint pain, skin conditions, etc.
- Inflammation anywhere in the body. Gluten is an inflammatory food that increases the inflammation response and can worsen existing inflammation.
Now, how about the rest of us? As mentioned in point 3 above, gluten has an inflammatory effect on the body. But why was gluten not a problem for most of us 10 years ago? This increased inflammation could be due to any one (or all) of the following reasons and there has been no research to my knowledge testing why, but plenty supporting that it is.
- the genetic modification of wheat, etc.
- the amount of increased toxicity elsewhere in our lives thereby reducing our ability to process gluten effectively
- it’s increased prevalence in consumables
So, just by decreasing inflammation, gluten-free can be healthier. However, most of the gluten-free products on the market are high in added sugars to increase flavour. Sugar is also very inflammatory, so just switching your existing grain products for a convenient substitute may not be helping at all.
Where is Gluten?
Any food product that contains wheat:
- cereals, breads, pastas, crackers, baked goods, cookies to name a few.
Many grains or flours that are not wheat:
- Rye, barley, bulgur, couscous, farina, graham, kamut, matzo, semolina, spelt and triticale
Any food product in need of a glue or extra protein:
- sausages, deli meats, dips, soups, imitation meats, ice cream, condiments, salad dressings to name a few.
Many personal care products:
- cosmetics, shampoo, lipsticks, lip balms, medications, supplements, stamps and envelopes to name a few.
*You should get in the habit of reading all labels, or contacting the manufacturer and asking them directly. Many products will now state contains no gluten or wheat products, but beware the added sugars!