Gluten – What Is It?

As fans of Jimmy Kimmel can attest (for a laugh, watch his piece here), there is still a lot of confusion about what gluten actually is.  Is it a grain?  It is a food additive?  Is it a chemical?  Is it natural?

Let’s dispel the myths.  From the Celiac Disease Foundation’s website: “Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (durum, emmer, spelt, farina, farro, KAMUT® khorasan wheat and einkorn), rye, barley and triticale. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together.”

Gluten is therefore a naturally occurring protein found in wheat, rye and barley.  For most people, digesting gluten does not cause any problems.  But for the nearly 20 million or so Americans thought to have either celiac disease (approximately 3 M) or non-celiac gluten intolerance (approximately another 17 to 18 M), consuming gluten can cause a variety of issues including (but of course not limited to):  gastrointestinal distress, indigestion, headaches/mental fog, vomiting, congestion and weight gain.  The treatment for both conditions is the same:  abstinence from gluten consumption.  Fortunately, for almost all of those afflicted by gluten related issues, abstinence will cure essentially all their symptoms.

As you can guess, gluten is found in most breads and baked goods, but it can also be lurking in places you might not expect.  For more information on that, check out our blog posts “Is Gluten Hiding In Your Food?” and “Is Gluten Hiding In Your Drink?”