The word gluten actually means glue. It is protein from cereal grains such as wheat, barley and rye. The seeds of these grass grains are harvested and processed into food products.
The protein duo of glutenin and gliadin are present in the seeds and as the starch is washed away it leaves behind the glue-like gluten.
Probably the most familiar food product that has gluten is dough. The gluten gives the elastic quality to dough and the chewiness of foods such as bagels.
Gluten content of flours used for baking is manipulated to make flours that either have higher or lower gluten content. The higher gluten content flours promote better rising of the dough and make the baked products chewier. Flours low in gluten are used to make cakes.
The glue property of gluten is still used today to make wallpaper paste. The old-fashioned way of making wallpaper paste was to mix up high gluten flour and warm water into a soupy paste that would be applied to the back of wallpaper to get it to stick to the walls. It’s that sticky!
Are Wheat And Gluten The Same Thing?
Gluten is not wheat. They are two different entities entirely. The difference? Wheat is a grain, a type of grass that is grown all over the world. Wheat is used in all sorts of products, from mulch to construction materials to the much used cooking product, flour. Wheat is an annual crop which means that at the end of each season the fields must be plowed to prepare for the next season’s crop.
Gluten, on the other hand, is a protein found in wheat and a several other grains, including barly, rye and sometimes oats.
Wheat always contains gluten.
How Common is a Gluten Intolerance?
With the severe form of gluten intolerance being Celiac disease, and with there being roughly three million people in the United States who suffer from Celiac disease, it is logical that there are significantly higher numbers of the population who have varying level of intolerance to gluten.
For those who do not meet the conditional parameters for a diagnosis of Celiac disease yet continue to have symptoms after ingesting gluten, they are being referred to as Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitive/Intolerant (NCGS/NCGI). Some physicians such as gastroenterologist Scot Lewey suggest that anywhere from 10% to 30% of the population has Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance.
Other scientists and physicians claim that absolutely no one can eat gluten without some kind of reaction, whether asymptomatic or minor – in other words, they believe humans simply were not made to be eating gluten.
Sufferers of celiac disease who finally get a definitive diagnosis often suffer for years before that diagnosis is given. Those who suffer with less severe symptoms of gluten intolerance may never get a definitive medical diagnosis, but nevertheless still have gluten intolerance.
Gluten intolerance may be prevalent in our population in much higher numbers than currently suspected.
What is Celiac Disease?
For information about Celiac Disease, go to our Celiac Disease section.
What Should I Avoid on a Gluten-Free Diet?
To avoid gluten in the diet is a task indeed for most Americans who are eating the Standard American Diet (SAD). The SAD is full of processed foods, little fresh fruit, even less vegetables, and with lots of refined sugars and grains. Grains are where gluten comes from. If it is bread, pasta, cracker or cake, or even a meat such as meatloaf or meatballs which commonly use breadcrumbs in the recipe, it probably has gluten in it.
With processed foods the sticky gluten will be included in mass produced foods that are not breads, crackers or cakes to accomplish something in the recipe such as acting as a binding agent. Gluten is so wide spread in processed foods that only a declaration from the manufacturer would grant any assurance that the product is gluten-free.
Bread and pasta are probably harder for most Americans to give up than that big piece of chocolate cake or blueberry muffin. We like our fresh-baked breads and bagels, and we crave our pasta dishes! There are many gluten-free breads and pastas available so that the favorite staples of the American diet do not have to be eliminated entirely to avoid gluten. They are normally right there on the store shelves next to the same products that contain gluten or may be found in a health section of the grocery store.
Do Alcoholic Beverages Contain Gluten?
Yes. Beer, bourbon, vodka and many other alcoholic beverages may contain gluten depending on the source of the plant material that was used in their production and the way that they have been processed. It is believed that distillation of the spirit beverages will make the product safe for those intolerant of gluten, however many still react to any alcoholic beverage that once started its life as a gluten grain. Thus even whiskeys though made from rye should be safe, however, it’s truly not.
Beer is not distilled and may contain gluten. Another issue to consider is flavorings and color added to distilled spirits after the distillation. The same concern exists for wines, wine coolers and other alcoholic beverages due to the unknown additives or additive sources.
Is There Gluten in My Cosmetics?
There can be gluten in almost any product. If it is not directly used for such purposes as a thickening agent or for other such use to modify a product, it may be in flour used to dust products to ease in separation of the finished products such as latex gloves, paper plates and tacos. Many chapsticks, lipsticks, lip balms and lip glosses contain gluten, so it’s best to check with the manufacturer before using them. Same goes for any foundation products. The main concern for most is whether you would ingest the cosmetic, as is the case with lip products.
Gluten in lip glosses or lipstick may be of concern since even the tiniest amount of gluten consumed by a person with an intolerance will initiate some sort of reaction whether felt by symptoms or not. Gluten may also be in some oral hygiene products. Contact the manufacturer of what you personally use to find out.
Is There Gluten in My Lotions and Other Body Care Products?
Yes there can be. The main issue for lotions and other body care products is whether or not one has a contact reaction to gluten. The other concern is having a gluten containing lotion on hands that are preparing foods to eat or if you were to apply it to your face and ingest a small amount through your moth. Since even a tiny amount of gluten can initiate a reaction it is possible that the gluten from a soap or lotion could contaminate a food. This type of scenario may make it prudent to investigate the presence of gluten in any product one is using and for those who may be responsible for preparing food for another who suffers from gluten intolerance.