What Is Gluten?

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With all of the hullabaloo about gluten lately, it’s time to answer the question “What is gluten, anyway?”

hullabaloo jane tarzan

Quite simply, gluten is a gluey protein that is found in wheat and a few other grains (including barley and rye).

Gluten is the composite of a gliadin and a glutenin, which is conjoined with starch in the endosperm of various grass-related grains.  Altogether, gluten is 80% of the protein found in wheat.

Modern wheat (and related grains) have been bred and genetically engineered to have more gluten.


The “glueyness” of gluten holds together bread, crackers, pastries, pizza dough, and other heavily processed carbohydrate food.  It gives these bready treats a chewy softness instead of a hard graininess.

Gluten is the second most common food additive in US foods, following sugar.

Normal human digestion can’t break down the gluten proteins though.  The surviving pieces of gluten come into contact with the lining of your digestive system and your immune system.  When gluten encounters your immune system, there’s an immune reaction where your body recognizes the gluten protein (or protein pieces) as a foreign invader and attacks (kind of like what happens with lectins).

As a result of this immune system attack, your digestive track becomes inflamed and your villi (tiny fingerlike projections used for absorbing nutrients in your intestines) are damaged.

villi damage

This villi damage from gluten affects all nutrient absorption and regular digestive processes.  Once this occurs, it is harder and harder to have a normally functioning body.

Also, gluten grains cause an acidic reaction in the body, which leads to inflammation, headaches, acne, weight gain, and mental disturbances like depression and anxiety.

Some of the signs of gluten intolerance are:

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Queasiness
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Irritability
  • Sudden mood shifts
  • Aching joints
  • Clogged nasal passages
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty balancing
  • Peripheral neuropathy (affects nerves outside the central nervous system and results in pain, weakness, tingling or numbness in the extremities)
  • Nutritional deficiencies due to poor absorption
  • Fat in the stool (due to poor digestion)
  • Eczema
  • Exhaustion
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Dental health problems

Even if you don’t have full-on celiac disease, gluten isn’t doing your body any good.  And if you have any of the symptoms of gluten sensitivity listed above, removing gluten from your diet can make a world of difference.

Some Tips For Getting Off Of Gluten

Get rid of everything in your kitchen that contains gluten.  This includes: wheat, barley, triticale, rye, kamut, spelt, couscous, oats, textured vegetable protein (TVP), hydrolyzed vegetable protein, most soy sauces, and anything with modified food starch, malt, and malt flavoring.

Gluten stays in your system causing problems for 14 days.  So if you have a cheat/reward/celebration meal and want bready or baked treats, go with gluten-free alternatives.  You can find gluten-free options for almost anything, from pizza crust to cake.  Say you have a cheat meal that actually has gluten every 2 weeks – you’re never giving your digestive system a chance to try to recover.

gluten free baking vintage

Switch to a diet based on meat, leaves, and berries.  Focus on natural foods and the gluten problem takes cares of itself.  Note:  The meat from animals fed gluten-containing grains can still cause a reaction in people with severe gluten intolerance, so choose wild or grass-fed, not just organic.

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