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  • Jefferson Adams

    What Exactly is Gluten, Anyway?

    Jefferson Adams
    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten is the thing that gives makes dough stretchy and pliable, and gives bread its classic chewy, soft texture. When you eat soft, chewy bread, you can thank gluten.

    Image: CC--Jeff Kubina
    Caption: Image: CC--Jeff Kubina

    Celiac.com 07/04/2018 - For the vast majority of people, gluten is nothing to worry about. However, for people with celiac disease, gluten triggers an immune reaction that can be uncomfortable and lead to damage of the intestinal lining, and, left untreated, other conditions, including certain types of deadly cancers. Actually, the real offender is a protein in gluten called gliadin. It's the gliadin that triggers the immune reaction in people with celiac disease. For our purposes today, I will talk about gluten, even though it's really gliadin that's the culprit. Still, avoiding gliadin means avoiding gluten, so let's just keep it simple, if a bit unscientific, for now.

    There are some people who are sensitive to gluten, but who don’t have celiac disease, a condition know as Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). When people with NCGS eat gluten, they often experience symptoms similar to those with celiac disease, yet they lack the same antibodies to gluten, as well as the intestinal damage seen in celiac disease.

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    People with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity need to follow a gluten-free diet that excludes all products containing wheat, barley and rye ingredients. These people can still enjoy a healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, fish, beans, legumes and most dairy products. Many delicious foods are naturally gluten-free, and safe for people with celiac disease.

    That said, gluten is found in a wide variety of foods, even those you wouldn’t expect, such as soy sauce and even some french fries. Foods containing wheat, barley or rye contain gluten, but the protein can also be hidden in many foods as an additive, especially processed foods. Gluten can also sometimes be found in certain medications, personal hygiene products and more.

    For people with celiac disease, even tiny amounts of gluten can cause damage to the small intestine and prevent nutrients from being absorbed into the bloodstream. The safest bet is to purchase naturally gluten-free grains, flours and starches labeled gluten-free and, when possible, certified gluten-free by a third party.

    For a more complete list, see Celiac.com’s gluten-free Safe Foods List  and the non-gluten free Unsafe Foods List.

    What Foods and Products Contain Gluten?
    Gluten is found in any products with ingredients derived from wheat, barley and rye. This includes:

    1) Wheat products (Triticum), including: All species of wheat contain gluten, including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn, faro and triticale, which is a hybrid of wheat and rye.

    2) Barley Products (Hordeum vulgare)

    3) Rye Products (Secale)

    4) Any bakery item, beer, breads, candy (not all), cereal, flour, pastas, non-dairy milk (not all), sauces (not all), soups (not all), or other product made with wheat, rye, barley, including the following ingredients:

    • Abyssinian Hard (Wheat triticum durum)
    • Alcohol (Spirits - Specific Types)
    • Atta Flour
    • Barley Grass (can contain seeds)
    • Barley Hordeum vulgare
    • Barley Malt
    • Beer (most contain barley or wheat)
    • Bleached Flour
    • Bran
    • Bread Flour
    • Brewer's Yeast
    • Brown Flour
    • Bulgur (Bulgar Wheat/Nuts)
    • Bulgur Wheat
    • Cereal Binding
    • Chilton
    • Club Wheat (Triticum aestivum subspecies compactum)
    • Common Wheat (Triticum aestivum)
    • Cookie Crumbs
    • Cookie Dough
    • Cookie Dough Pieces
    • Couscous
    • Criped Rice
    • Dinkle (Spelt)
    • Disodium Wheatgermamido Peg-2 Sulfosuccinate
    • Durum wheat (Triticum durum)
    • Edible Coatings
    • Edible Films
    • Edible Starch
    • Einkorn (Triticum monococcum)
    • Emmer (Triticum dicoccon)
    • Enriched Bleached Flour
    • Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour
    • Enriched Flour
    • Farik
    • Farina
    • Farina Graham
    • Farro
    • Filler
    • Flour (normally this is wheat)
    • Freekeh
    • Frikeh
    • Fu (dried wheat gluten)
    • Germ
    • Graham Flour
    • Granary Flour
    • Groats (barley, wheat)
    • Hard Wheat
    • Heeng
    • Hing
    • Hordeum Vulgare Extract
    • Hydroxypropyltrimonium Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
    • Kamut (Pasta wheat)
    • Kecap Manis (Soy Sauce)
    • Ketjap Manis (Soy Sauce)
    • Kluski Pasta
    • Maida (Indian wheat flour)
    • Malt
    • Malted Barley Flour
    • Malted Milk
    • Malt Extract
    • Malt Syrup
    • Malt Flavoring
    • Malt Vinegar
    • Macha Wheat (Triticum aestivum)
    • Matza
    • Matzah
    • Matzo
    • Matzo Semolina
    • Meripro 711
    • Mir
    • Nishasta
    • Oriental Wheat (Triticum turanicum)
    • Orzo Pasta
    • Pasta
    • Pearl Barley
    • Persian Wheat (Triticum carthlicum)
    • Perungayam
    • Poulard Wheat (Triticum turgidum)
    • Polish Wheat (Triticum polonicum)
    • Rice Malt (if barley or Koji are used)
    • Roux
    • Rusk
    • Rye
    • Seitan
    • Semolina
    • Semolina Triticum
    • Shot Wheat (Triticum aestivum)
    • Small Spelt
    • Spirits (Specific Types)
    • Spelt (Triticum spelta)
    • Sprouted Wheat or Barley
    • Stearyldimoniumhydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
    • Strong Flour
    • Suet in Packets
    • Tabbouleh
    • Tabouli
    • Teriyaki Sauce
    • Timopheevi Wheat (Triticum timopheevii)
    • Triticale X triticosecale
    • Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Flour Lipids
    • Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Extract
    • Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Oil
    • Udon (wheat noodles)
    • Unbleached Flour
    • Vavilovi Wheat (Triticum aestivum)
    • Vital Wheat Gluten
    • Wheat, Abyssinian Hard triticum durum
    • Wheat Amino Acids
    • Wheat Bran Extract
    • Wheat, Bulgur
    • Wheat Durum Triticum
    • Wheat Germ Extract
    • Wheat Germ Glycerides
    • Wheat Germ Oil
    • Wheat Germamidopropyldimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
    • Wheat Grass (can contain seeds)
    • Wheat Nuts
    • Wheat Protein
    • Wheat Triticum aestivum
    • Wheat Triticum Monococcum
    • Wheat (Triticum Vulgare) Bran Extract
    • Whole-Meal Flour
    • Wild Einkorn (Triticum boeotictim)
    • Wild Emmer (Triticum dicoccoides)

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,500 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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