What is Gluten Free?

The real story behind the gluten free fad taking over the United States.

Photo courtesy of flickr/ WimKok



Lately, there are a lot of gluten-free options offered in a lot of cafés, bakeries, and restaurants and it begs the questions to a lot of people, “What is this dietary fad?” However, gluten intolerance is not a trendy new diet at all. It is an allergy so powerful that it can hospitalize people and keep them ill for months at a time. About one percent of people in the United States have Celiac disease, which is an abnormal immune reaction to partially digested gliadin, a glycoprotein in wheat. Symptoms of celiac disease include digestive problems, hair loss, bruising, depression, fatigue, and even growth delay in children. Celiac disease occurs when there is damage to the lining of the small intestine, which is usually a reaction of a diet containing gluten. There is no cure for celiac disease, but the medically endorsed treatment is a diet of gluten-free foods, as it will help the lining of the small intestine heal over time.


Gluten is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and other grain related sources like rye. Alone, gluten is a rough gray substance with a rubbery texture, but added to dough its the "glue" that gives it elasticity. Gluten holds the gas bubbles in dough, which keep its shape as it bakes and helps it rise. Almost all flours contain gluten, but in varying quantities. Bread has the most amount of gluten, which gives it the elastic framework needed for its chewy texture. (Photo courtesy of flickr/NDSU Ag Comm).


To accommodate people with gluten sensitivity, gluten extraction is possible. It can be extracted from flour by kneading it into an elastic network and washing out the starch, removing the cell-wall material, and eliminating the soluble components. Gluten free chefs use gluten-free flours and nut flours in their kitchen. Fortunately with the raising awareness of celiac disease, there are now plenty of gluten-free cookbooks, recipes, and blogs to accommodate people who suffer from it. (Photo courtesy of flickr/annakarenina82).


Gluten-free diets consist of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and many dairy products. Grains that do not contain gluten include rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, arrowroot, and teff. People with gluten sensitivity need to be extremely cautious that any product they use is not cross-contaminated with gluten. Even over the counter cosmetics such a lib balm and lipstick can contain enough gluten to cause a reaction. (Photo courtesy of flickr/Butchinthekitchen).



A gluten-free diet is not meant for people who do not have a sensitivity to it. The issue with many gluten-free foods is that they are stripped of many nutrients that whole grains provide. If your body can digest gluten and whole grain products, then be sure to eat away!