What is Gluten Exactly?

What is Gluten? Well, gluten is a form of sticky protein that occurs naturally in wheat, barley and rye products. While most people have absolutely no problem consuming foods that contain this substance, others may develop an adverse form of autoimmune reaction called Celiac Disease. In its natural form, the element gives cooking dough elasticity when mixed with water, making the kneaded product to rise and assume a malleable texture.

It consists of two protein particles gliadin and glutenin, which are joined together using starch molecules found in the grain’s endosperm. Gluten can either be present in foods made directly from the crops mentioned above, or where they have been used as additives for other processed items such as snacks.

Sensitivity and Side Effects

effects of gluten

For those suffering from Celiac Disease, gluten triggers the body to release antibodies which attack small intestines. Injuring villi and causing certain symptoms like discomfort, abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation. These organs develop perforations that hinder absorption of vitamins/minerals. Hence, patients usually develop weak bones since their systems can’t take in calcium which is a building block for this organ.

Similarly, they may experience difficulty absorbing iron which ultimately leads to anemia. A condition characterized by low red blood cell count in the body, this prevents oxygen from being transmitted equally to all parts of the system. Kids with Celiac condition may also find it difficult to gain weight and grow normally, since essential nutrients are not absorbed by the body as is required. Doctors warn that when left unaddressed for long then Celiac can result to certain strains of cancer.

Sources of Gluten

Though wheat is the most common food that can cause gluten contamination, one should as well be on the lookout for its derivatives which often go by names that are somewhat difficult to recognize. Such as durum, semolina, emmer, farina and spelt. If you see a product that lists any of these ingredients then avoid it as they all contain gluten.

Apart from these, there are other commercial food items that may have hidden traces of the substance as well. For instance, some manufacturers add wheat to starch when making certain types of snacks like crisps. But may not necessarily mention this information when labeling their packages. Even still, take time and read labels since some actually mark them gluten-free.

Also note that products written no-wheat may not necessarily be free from this protein. They can still have barley or rye-based ingredients in unfamiliar names such as those mentioned above. If not sure on whether the product you’re buying from the stores contains gluten or otherwise, contact the specific manufacturer for more details.

gluten-free labels

Nevertheless, according to FDA, foods that have a maximum threshold of 20 portions per million of gluten don’t have to be marked. Since this amount is considered a very negligible to cause any physical reactions on people. The enactment was passed on August 5th 2014, giving consumers surety that in case they have Celiac disease then foods containing traces of wheat labeled gluten-free should not surpass this particular limit. If a product has been highlighted as containing wheat starch among the ingredients, then this should follow with an asterisk sign explaining that it has sufficiently been processed to meet FDA standards.

Sometimes when preparing gluten-free products cross-contamination can still occur during the processing stage. It happens when ingredients are also handled in similar machines used to make other known sources of the protein, such as bread. This source of contagion can easily be overlooked by largescale food companies, which handle tons of different production materials every day in their factories. However, for your own safety it’s good to ask the manufacturers themselves if this happens in their premises.

Even at home, cross-contamination can still occur when prepared food comes into contact with gluten through shared cooking utensils, or storage environments. Never use the same scooping spoon for a wheat-based delicacy with that which does not contain this compound.

Vinegar and Beverages

Scientists hold it that most distilled liquor drinks and vinegars are free from gluten, even if they are made from grains that may otherwise contain the protein. Peptide molecules that hold this compound are too large to pass through the distillation stage of making alcohol, hence leaving the resultant solution gluten-free.

While hard liquor and wines are by and large safe to drink, the same does not apply to beers, lagers, malt beverages or ales which are made from grains that need no distillation at all. This increases their chances of containing gluten. Nevertheless, there are still some unique brands of beer in the market today which do not contain this substance.


Studies show that 1 in every 130 individuals live with Celiac Disease, and genetic predisposition is a major contributor as the condition usually runs within families. If a person gets diagnosed with the condition, then chances are high that a few close kin will also have it. Parents and siblings should undergo regular screening as they could easily have celiac as well. Avoiding gluten based foods is the only sure way to stay healthy. Research shows that approximately 3 million U.S residents suffer from this disease, which approximately translates to the figure mentioned above. Even more worrying is that out of the millions, only 1 in 4,700 people have ever received official diagnosis from a medic. Which means that many people are currently living with celiac and don’t have a clue about it. Check out more statistics on Celiac Disease.

Moreover, out of this figure many more are likely to develop other autoimmune disorders by continuing with their gluten diets. Not knowing that it’s harming them from within. While all patients will experience certain reactions, the intensity of these side effects may vary from one individual to another depending on their specific body makeup. There are those who’ll show signs after just a few days, while others may take several months before any symptoms are seen. Those who suffer from gluten sensitivity are advised to stop taking oats, since they are usually refined on equipment contaminated with grain particles. Similarly, when dining out in restaurants ask them if they offer gluten-free menus since some eateries nowadays do that.

Hopefully the next time someone asks you, “What is Gluten?” you can now give them a more informed answer.


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