What the Heck Is Gluten, and Why Should I Care?


Written by Britney Young | Published on May 19, 2015
Medically Reviewed by Katherine Kreis MSN, RN on May 19, 2015

4 things you should know about Gluten and why it may not be good for you

By now, you’ve probably come across the word “gluten” at some point or other. Whether it was from a box of cookies at the grocery store, your fitness guru friend, or tweet on Twitter, everyone has been talking about gluten. Not only are people talking about it, but health conscious individuals are campaigning against it. “But why?” you may ask. Has gluten become the latest dietary villain? And if so, what’s so bad about it? Here are 4 things you should know about Gluten and why it may not be good for you.

1. What is Gluten and what happens to some people who eat foods that contain it?

Gluten is a protein that occurs naturally in wheat, rye, barley and crossbreeds of these grains. Gluten is found in many of the common foods we eat such as breads, cakes, cereals, pastas, soups, sauces and much more. Gluten is what gives breads and other grains their shape, strength, and texture. When gluten is mixed with water, it forms a sticky cross-linked network of proteins that cause bread dough to be elastic and rise when baked.

Certain people are sensitive to gluten, and when digested the cells of the immune system react negatively to it and attack it as though it were a foreign invader in the body. The most severe form of gluten sensitivity is known as celiac disease. For people who are diagnosed with celiac disease, the immune system attacks the gluten proteins, but it also attacks the intestinal wall itself.

2. Gluten sensitivity is more common than you think

Celiac disease is the most severe reaction to gluten. However, there are many people that suffer from gluten sensitivity, who experience an adverse reaction to gluten and see symptoms improve on a gluten-free diet. The difference between non-celiac gluten sensitivity and celiac disease is that individuals that experience non-celiac gluten sensitivity have no attack by their immune system on their intestines. However both reactions to gluten have similar symptoms. At this time there is no clear way to diagnose gluten sensitivity and because of this, the only true way of knowing is by eliminating gluten temporarily from your diet, then reintroducing it to see if you have symptoms.

3. Gluten is found in more than just breads, cakes, pastas and cereals

The following is a list of other common food items that contain gluten that may surprise you:

  • some candies
  • fried foods
  • imitation fish
  • some lunch meats and hot dogs
  • malt
  • matzo
  • modified food starch
  • seasoned chips and other seasoned snack foods
  • salad dressings
  • self-basting turkey
  • soy sauce
  • seasoned rice and pasta mixes

Gluten is added to many packaged food ingredients. If you are trying to stay away from gluten due to celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, always read food labels and ingredient lists thoroughly before buying packaged food.

4. There is FDA regulation of “Gluten-Free” claims

In August 2013, the FDA issued a regulation that defined the term “gluten-free” for food labeling. This regulation was formed to guide consumers; especially those who suffer from Celiac disease, the assurance of “gluten-free” claims on food labeling would be consistent and reliable across the food industry. FDA established, among other criteria, a gluten limit of less than 20 parts per million (ppm) for foods that carry the label “gluten-free,” “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” or “without gluten.” This level is the lowest that can be reliably detected in foods using scientifically validated analytical methods. Prior to this regulation in 2013, there were no standards or definitions for the food industry to use in labeling products as “gluten-free”, thus leaving many consumers unsure of the credibility of food’s gluten or gluten-free content.

In conclusion, there is still much research to do to prove how bad gluten is for us and to what extent it can harm the body. For those who are diagnosed with celiac disease, there is no cure and gluten must be completely avoided from the diet in order to heal. If you believe you may suffer from gluten sensitivity, talk about it with your doctor before putting yourself on a gluten-free diet so that the doctor can properly diagnose you. If you stop eating a diet that includes gluten before being tested, the results may be negative for the disease even if you may have it.


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