What Is Gluten?

Gluten is a hot topic is today’s nutrition world. I’m sure you’ve all heard of someone who has had to cut it out of their diet, either because they are intolerant or have celiac disease. Many people cut it out even if they aren’t intolerant to it for health reasons. But are those foods on the menu labeled “GF” supposed to be healthier? What even is gluten? What foods contain it, and how do I know if I should avoid it or not?

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in cereal grains like wheat, barley, and rye. It comes from tissue in the seeds that are ground to make flour and its purpose to give these foods their shape and structure. In the rising process of making bread, gluten traps air bubbles making the bread fluffy. Gliadin (one class of gluten protein) helps make the bread elastic and chewy, while glutenin (the other class of gluten proteins) allows the bread to rise.

What foods contain gluten?

As discussed above, gluten is found in wheat, barley, and rye. That means there are plenty of other grains that are gluten free! Rice, quinoa, polenta, oats are a few examples. Also, just because a food is gluten free doesn’t make it healthy. It can still have tons of sugar, be extremely high in calories, and be gluten free at the same time. However, often gluten free variations of foods will be more easily digested in populations with intolerance to gluten.

Gluten Intolerance and Celiac

In people with Celiac disease, gluten triggers a response from the immune system that damages the small intestine and causes gut inflammation. Eventually this can cause enough damage to prevent nutrient absorption and can contribute some nutrient deficiencies. However some people test negative for celiac and still get an inflammatory response from gluten. So, even though you might not technically have celiac, you can still leave your digestive system in shambles if you’re intolerant.

Interestingly enough, gluten intolerance seems to be primarily an American problem. Some research shows that the reason is that our wheat, barely, and rye have been so heavily modified that they contain a much higher concentration of gluten proteins than our european counterparts. So you may not be able to eat pasta in America, but in Italy you could be fine.

How do I know if I should go gluten free?

If you’re experiencing multiple of these systems, the best thing to do is cut gluten out for a month.

  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Mood swings
  • Depression & fogginess
  • Acne
  • Eczema
  • Craving for breads, pastas, cereals, bagels

Note changes in how you feel, and if symptoms are relieved.

Keep Gluten?

Believe it or not, there are some reasons why you might want to keep gluten in your diet. Dr Bryan Walsh has done some research that shows gluten might be important to the first phase insulin response, which helps maintain healthy insulin sensitivity. Also, if you don’t have have the symptoms above and you feel great eating gluten, you likely are not sensitive to it and it is totally ok (and delicious) to eat!

If you would like some guidance on how to approach going gluten free or simply want some help with your nutrition, set up a free consult with a coach by emailed andrew@yankeecrossfit.com