Let’s Talk About Gluten

By: Charlotte Miller

Why is everyone talking about gluten so much lately? What even is gluten? And should you really be ‘going gluten free?’ Recently, gluten has garnered a negative connotation and subsequently a bad reputation, leading more and more people to be taking up a gluten free lifestyle. To understand this latest health fad, let’s start with the basics.

What is gluten?

“Gluten is the main storage protein of wheat grains… wheat, rye, barley, and oats” (Biesiekierski, 2017). 

What this means is 85-90% of the protein in wheat comes from gluten; keep in mind, though, wheat has only 8-15% of protein in it in total (Biesiekierski, 2017). Gluten acts as a binding agent in wheat and other products. It helps maintain the structure of the food because of its binding agents and extension properties. Gluten is heat stable, so most baked goods and processed foods contain gluten for structure, texture, and flavor (Biesiekierski, 2017). The three most common food products that contain gluten are wheat, rye, and barley which include cereals, beer, malt, breads, baked goods, pastas, and even salad dressing2. Evidently, gluten is in a lot of products. This can make going gluten free extremely difficult for some people. Fortunately, it is 2021 and gluten-free is a label you can find as an alternative for almost every gluten product. 

Naturally gluten-free foods:2

  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Potatoes
  • Quinoa 

Why Gluten-Free?

There are a few reasons one might decide to go gluten-free. The most serious reason is that they have celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the small intestine. People with celiac disease cannot eat gluten because when it enters the body, an immune response is activated, which damages the structures in the small intestine that are responsible for nutrient absorption. Celiac disease is a hereditary, it is genetic and runs in families.2 

Another reason one might be gluten-free is because they have a gluten-sensitivity. This means that they are not allergic to gluten and they don’t have an autoimmune disease, but they do have symptoms when they eat gluten. Symptoms include stomach pain, bloating, and gas3. These symptoms can be painful and cause discomfort. These are major reasons people cut out gluten for two weeks and see if they feel better without it. If their symptoms stop or significantly  decrease, they will usually go gluten-free. 

Overall, if you’re having similar symptoms to the ones mentioned above, cutting out gluten for two weeks and seeing if your symptoms improve can be a good place to start. As always, check with your gastroenterologist or primary care doctor first!

Reference List:

Biesiekierski, J. (2017). What is gluten? Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 32(S1), 78–81. https://doi.org/10.1111/jgh.13703 

Source 2, https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/what-is-celiac-disease/

Source 3, https://www.gothamgastro.com/blog/what-are-signs-of-gluten-intolerance

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