What is Gluten?

What is gluten?

Gluten is the name given to a mixture of proteins found in wheat (durum, emmer, spelt, farina, farro, KAMUT® khorasan wheat and einkorn) and related grains which include rye, barley and triticale.  It is composed of two primary subfractions:  prolamines and glutelins.  Gluten is what gives bread its elasticity, helps it to rise, keep its shape and provides the overall product with a chewy texture.  Any flour made from the starchy endosperm (the seed’s bran casing) contains prolamines and is potentially toxic to those who are sensitive/intolerant to the grains.

There are many obvious items to avoid when eliminating gluten from your diet such as breads, pastas, crackers, cakes, cookies, pizza, desserts, pancakes, muffins and many more obvious food items.  But it can also be hidden in less obvious places such as processed meats, frozen french fries, imitation seafood, cereals, sauces and marinades, soup bases, supplements, cosmetics, and medications just to name a few.

The best advice is to read the label carefully and contact the manufacturer if you are unsure about the gluten status of a food product. Keep in mind, however, that other gluten-containing grains, like barley and rye, are not required to be labeled, so “wheat-free” is not the same as “gluten-free.”

What is a grain?

Grains are the seeds of grass.  The seed consists of several layers, the bran casing surrounding the outside of the seed, a starchy endosperm, which contains 90% of the protein (including the gluten) within the bran casing, and a small germ nucleus that’s the plant’s embryo.  Flour is made from the starchy endosperm of the grain.  This is what contains the prolamines (the gliadin that is the most studied part of gluten as it relates to celiac disease).  The bran casing is where you’ll find most of the grain’s fiber.

What is Celiac Disease?

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, celiac disease (CD) is an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.  This causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the body’s own tissue.  A result of this condition is risk for malabsorption of food in the GI tract, causing nutritional deficiencies, osteoporosis and other more serious health problems that can result in early death..  It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide, and that number continues to grow every year.  I want to be sure my readers understand that CD is not a fad, it is very real, and very dangerous when left untreated.  Two and one-half million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications.  When asking to be tested for CD, make sure you request that all four substrates of gliadin (the protein content of gluten) be tested.  There are many tests available that are non-invasive, so try those before you consider an intestinal biopsy!

What’s the difference between a gluten or wheat allergy?

If a product is labeled gluten-free, it is by definition wheat-free.  But if a product is labeled wheat-free, it can still contain other grains that contain gluten, such as rye, barley and triticale, which are not gluten-free.  Other grains do have their own types of gluten along with their own concentrations.  These grains do not pose such a threat for the person with celiac disease.  It is advised, however, to eliminate all grains from the diet, then consider introducing the less-threatening ones back in one at a time once your body can adjusts.

What is gluten intolerance or “non-celiac gluten sensitivity”?

While people with celiac disease are at risk for developing some forms of cancer (lymphomas), those people who are sensitive to gluten are not dealing with an autoimmune condition.  Gluten intolerance is considered to be an inability to tolerate gluten (non-immune mediated response).  Typically people who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) have an immune reaction and an inability to tolerate gluten.  NSGS may be linked to a number of symptoms, such as:

  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Chronic diseases
  • Skin eruptions, eczema, cold sores, acne
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Joint pain
  • Indigestion
  • Bloating Gas
  • Heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Congestion
  • Anxiety
  • Moodiness or irritability
  • Headaches or migraines

These symptoms do not usually cause any permanent damage as with celiac disease.  Even though these symptoms are similar to celiac disease, these people do not test positive for CD or wheat allergies.

What is gluten or wheat allergy?  

In the US, wheat allergy is one of the top eight food allergies.  Those people with a gluten or wheat allergy experience an immune mediated response and may show signs of wheezing, lip swelling, rash, abdominal pain, diarrhea and/or swelling of the lips.  You can test for a wheat allergy by getting a skin test or eliminating wheat from your diet and see if the symptoms go away.

How do you know if you or your child has Celiac Disease?

Children are more likely to experience digestive disorders such as abdominal bloating and pain, constipation, chronic diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, weight loss, just to name a few.  They also can have ADHD, irritability and behavioral problems at home or at school, delayed growth, and failure to thrive.

Adults however, are less likely to experience the digestive symptoms and this is why it’s more difficult to assess.  Of the 300 unknown symptoms that can occur with CD, some can show up as arthritis or bone/joint pain, tingling numbness in hands and feet, seizures or migraine headaches, canker sores inside the mouth, dermatitis herpetiformis, depression, anxiety, fatigue and iron-deficiency anemia that can’t be explained.

As with any autoimmune disease, it affects people in different ways and you can be at risk for developing other long-term complications.  The body is unable to process the nutrients foods provide because it thinks it’s always under attack.  This weakens the body and throws everything off balance.  Unlike people with a gluten sensitivity, simply eliminating gluten from the diet is not enough for people diagnosed with CD.

If you should decide to eliminate wheat products from your meal planning or if you think you may have a sensitivity to gluten, be sure to visit your doctor first and request testing.  You can check out our Gluten Testing Guide to find information about which tests to ask for.

How do I get tested to find out if I am prone to get celiac disease?

Yes, celiac disease is genetic and does run in families.  If you believe you or your child may be experiencing problems, you can ask to have a DNA test done.  Genetic testing can provide you with 100% accurate information since some blood tests can be falsely negative.

What are some other autoimmune conditions associated with celiac disease?

In a 1999 study, it was found that age was a factor in the development of another autoimmune disorder for those people found to have CD.  Some of those disorders are:

Dermatitis Herpetiformis (25%)
Multiple Sclerosis (11%)
Gluten Ataxia ( 10-12%)
Peripheral Neuropathy (9%)
Crohn’s Disease (8.5%)
Addison’s Disease (5-12%)
Autoimmune Hepatitis (3-6%)
Idiopathic Dilated Cardiomyopathy (5.7%)
Sjogren’s Syndrome (4.5-15%)
Psoriasis (4.3%)
Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus (4%)
Scleroderma (4%)
Autoimmune Hepatitis (3-6%)
Primary Bilary Cirrhosis (3-7%)
Ulcerative Colitis (3.6%)
Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (3%)
Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis 2.5-7%)
Autoimmune Thyroid Disease (Graves/Hashimoto’s at 2-7%)
Acid Reflux
…and another 168 more….

How do I know what foods I CAN eat?

You can check out the Gluten-Free List of Foods which will give you a plethora of foods you can enjoy.  All it takes is your imagination and creativity to prepare foods that don’t contain wheat.  Believe me, there are thousands of foods to enjoy.

What gluten-containing foods should I avoid?

Wheat is in almost everything from salad dressings to make up to gummed envelopes.  Unless you read labels, wheat can sneak up on you, so take time to do your research.   We’ve provided you with a list of Products That Contain Gluten to help you out.  Be aware that this is not a comprehensive list, but it will give you a great start.

Is the gluten contained within the grain the only or main contributor to other autoimmune conditions?

I’m SO glad you asked!  The answer is a whopping NO!  There is a much larger picture here.

Who is Monsanto and how do their products affect us?  Dr. Axe explains this really well when he says, “Monsanto is an international agriculture company based out of St. Louis, Mo., whose history dates back to the early 20thcentury. It began by producing the artificial sweetener saccharin and later moved on to producing chemicals like Agent Orange, widely used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War and later found to be carcinogenic.”

He goes on to tell his readers, “After selling off its chemical divisions, after numerous environmental violations and lawsuits, today Monsanto sticks to the biotechnology and agriculture business. Whether you’re familiar with the brand or hadn’t heard of it before today, you’ve almost surely consumed a Monsanto-associated product. Genetically altered seeds from Monsanto can be found in alfalfa, canola, cotton, sorghum, soybeans, sugarbeets and wheat. In fact, Monsanto’s patented genes are present in about 95 percent of U.S.-grown soybeans and 80 percent of our corn.”  Needless to say, I stopped eating non-organic corn products years ago.

What is Roundup?

Monsanto’s Roundup is the real money maker here.  Roundup is an herbicide designed to kill (or “control”) broadleaf plants, weeds and grasses  and was developed in 1974.  It is the world’s most popular weed killer used in both farmland and home gardens around the globe.

Roundup has an active ingredient–a chemical called glyphosate.  Dr. Mercola shares the newest findings in our exposure to this toxic chemical.  “Increasing exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, may be at least partially to blame for rising rates of numerous chronic diseases in Westernized societies, according to recent research.

The finding, published in Entropy,1 has ramifications for virtually every man, woman and child in developed nations, as this pesticide is widely used on both conventional and, especially, genetically modified (GM) crops (to the tune of more than one billion pounds sprayed in the US alone).

If you eat processed foods, most of which are made with GM corn and soy ingredients, you’re consuming glyphosate residues, probably in each and every bite. Knowing this, and the fact that tests show people in 18 countries across Europe already have glyphosate in their bodies,2 the following news should leave you very, very concerned… if not compelled to take action against this health-endangering chemical.”

In a documentary I saw a few years ago, it showed how farmers sprayed the ground before planting the seedlings, then again when the plants were more mature, and a third time AFTER harvest.  Why?  Because it helps to procure an even drying time so the grain can be packaged quickly.  So what does this mean?  We are eating 100% of this toxins!  How often have you rinsed packaged grains before cooking?  Does this cause you to think twice about the grains to consume?  I hope so.  But please remember, this is only a small portion of the big picture.  We haven’t even begun to talk about GMO (genetically modified organisms) yet.

What’s the latest news on Monsanto?

Right now Monsanto is in the process of purchasing the world’s last two large seed companies.  If this happens, it would be horrific!  If they control all of the world’s seed companies, consumers will have have fewer choices to obtain non-tainted seeds.  Those families who wish to enjoy growing their own crops will have to know what they are buying.

Okay, so how easy is it to live a gluten-free lifestyle?

Actually, it’s not hard at all to start Living a Gluten-Free Lifestyle.  I know because my family has been doing now for a few years.  It’s a little overwhelming in the very beginning, but I guarantee that you’ll get the hang of it quickly.  Yeah, my husband misses his

I encourage you to continue educating yourself about what you eat.  Read labels, ask questions of the food manufacturers, do your research, and eat only foods you know to be organic, fresh and real–and wash them all of course!

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