gluten free meme

Walk down the aisles in the grocery store these days, and you will notice gluten free products on the shelves, especially in the pasta section.  Gluten-free recipes are readily available online and in print.  Many cities also have gluten-free bakeries and gluten-free items on menus. Why all the hype about going gluten-free?  Do we all need to avoid gluten, as some people would recommend? What is gluten?  Gluten is a mixture of two proteins that is found in grains such as wheat, rye, barley, and triticale, as well as many other foods, such as ketchup and soy sauce.  People with celiac disease cannot eat gluten, while there are many other people who also are allergic to it and need to avoid eating it.

“Gluten-free” food products in the U.S. are labeled as such by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  This labeling can be misleading because of all of the hidden gluten in foods (see Table 1) and even in other non-food products (see Table 2). According to the Whole Grains Council “gluten-free” is defined  as containing fewer than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten — a level consistent with standards in other countries.”

Table 1: Food Products That Contain Gluten

Wheat Barley Rye Triticale
Breads, baked goods, soups, pizza crusts, bagels Malt, food coloring Rye bread (i.e. pumpernickel) Breads
Pasta, cereals, sauces, salad dressings Soups, malt vinegar, beer Rye beer Pasta
Roux Cereals Cereals


What does gluten do?  Gluten, which means “glue” in Latin, literally acts as a glue in foods, especially baked goods and sauces.  If you picture dough rising, the elasticity that you see comes from the gluten.  For example, as dough is kneaded, the gluten is what causes it to stretch out.

It also helps the shape and texture by hardening when the dough is baked.  The longer it is mixed and worked with, the firmer the texture of the end product.  For example, cakes are not mixed nearly as long as something with a hard exterior, like a baguette.   So, when you bite into a piece of bread with a chewy crust, you are enjoying the side-benefits of gluten!

You may be extremely surprised to know that gluten is also found in non-food products.  For someone with celiac disease, this is important information to be aware of.   It is used as a “binder” in some medications (particularly generics), cosmetics, and vitamins (also as a binder).

Table 2:  Other Foods That Often Contain Gluten

Soy sauce Some candies Imitation fish
Bouillon cubes Fried foods Some lunch meats
Broth in soups Malt Self-basting turkey
Breadcrumbs and croutons Seasoned chips and other seasoned snack foods Salad dressings
Seasoned rice and pasta mixes Modified food starch Matzo
Cross-contaminated oats (those not labeled “gluten-free”) Pickles Bouillon cubes
Hot dogs Blue cheese Hot chocolate (mixes)
French fries (cross-contaminated by cooking oils used with gluten-containing products) Frozen vegetables in sauces “Wheat-free” products might still contain gluten

Sources: and

Why do some people need to eliminate it?  An estimated 1-2% of the U.S. population has celiac disease, an auto-immune disease, while many others have a gluten intolerance.  A very small percentage of the population is simply allergic to wheat.  There is another whole contingent of people who believe that it is healthier for them not to include gluten in their diet.

How do I know if I have Celiac?  There is a blood test to determine if you have celiac disease.  A positive result is followed by a biopsy of the lining of the small intestines.  My friend, Mimi, has had celiac disease for at least 18 years, and she is so allergic to gluten now that if she consumes gluten, she lands in the hospital.  Her symptoms are sever flu-like aches and high fever, in addition to the very uncomfortable GI discomforts that accompany celiac as well as people with gluten intolerance.  As you can well imagine, depression and fatigue are common in both celiac and gluten intolerance as well.

Gluten causes severe GI discomfort in people who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
Gluten causes severe GI discomfort in people who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

Mimi describes celiac disease as being poisoned by gluten and being inflamed all of the time.  It is this inflammation that leads to muscle, joint, and connective tissue achiness.  The intestinal inflammation that celiac sufferers experience can lead to damage of the small intestine if untreated.   Because this affects mineral absorption, bone health is also compromised.

Does everyone need to go gluten-free? “Gluten-free” sounds like it is healthy, doesn’t it?  If you do not suffer from a gluten intolerance, you might be missing out on some key nutrients by avoiding foods that contain it, especially whole grains.

Whole grains provide important fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  Whole grains are included in many healthy diets because of the potential health benefits such as reducing the risk of heart disease.  On the other hand, all grains are excluded from some diets, such as Paleo. My good friend Mimi, finds the Paleo diet to be the answer to eating safely and enjoyably after many years of struggling to avoid getting sick from eating the wrong foods because of her celiac disease.

Someone who needs to eliminate gluten, can still choose to eat grains such as millet, amaranth, rice (brown and wild rice being the healthier choices), buckwheat, and organic (non-GMO) whole-grain cornmeal (be careful about the quality of this).  Quinoa is gluten-free, and is used as a grain in cereals, casseroles, salads, etc., but interestingly enough, it is actually a vegetable seed, not a grain.  It is tasty and crunchy and so good for you.

Gluten-free products have had a bad rap over the years.  Gluten-free breads reportedly taste like cardboard, leave a bad aftertaste, need to be toasted to even be edible, and on and on.  Gluten-free products often have too much sugar in them in order to try and make them taste better.  That said, there are some gluten-free products that consumers have reported tasting good.  Gluten-free bakeries are popping up in some areas with yummy breads and other baked goods.

If you choose to go gluten-free, do your homework, and be assured that there are so many gluten-free resources nowadays that no shortage exists of great recipes, books, and products.    Here are a few that we  recommend:

Celiac Disease

Bob’s Red Mill Organic Quinoa Grain,…

truRoots Organic Quinoa 100% Whole G…

Nature’s Earthly Choice Premium Orga…

Deliciously G-Free

Gluten Freedom

Living Gluten-Free For Dummies







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