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What is Gluten?

by Collin Stark December 14, 2021 3 min read

I don’t think anyone can argue the fact that this topic has gained a tremendous amount of traction over the last 5 years or so.

To that point, almost every restaurant, grocery store, and food category has at least one or two “gluten-free” options available.

This has ultimately caused confusion by making people question whether or not they should be consuming gluten, what gluten is, and if gluten is bad for them.

What has been the cause of this, and why has gluten become such a popular target to cut out of one's diet?

First, you have to understand exactly what gluten is, and what foods contain gluten.

Gluten is an insoluble and indigestible protein that is actually composed of two different types of protein. 

1. Glutenin
2. Gliadin

These two proteins are what make up the ever so infamous "gluten" protein.

Where Is Gluten Found?

So, when I said gluten is a protein, you may have instantly thought of things like chicken, eggs, fish ... and I can’t say that I blame you...

However, this specific protein is actually found primarily in things like wheat, barley, and rye ... not in your traditional protein sources.

For example, it is responsible for the chewiness of bread, along with being a “binding” agent and creating the stretchiness of dough. I think of a pizzeria where they toss and spin dough in the air, and surely I am not the only one!

Here are some foods that contain gluten (unless labeled as gluten-free):

• Beer, ale, porter, stout (usually contain barley)
• Bread
• Bulgur wheat
• Cakes and pies
• Candies
• Cereals
• Chips
• Communion wafers
• Cookies and crackers
• Croutons
• Gravies
• Imitation meat or seafood
• Malt, malt flavoring, and other malt products (barley)
• Matzo
• Pasta
• Pastries
• Processed lunch meats
• Processed snack foods
• Salad dressings
• Sauces, including soy sauce (wheat)
• Seasoned rice mixes
• Self-basting poultry
• Soups, bouillon, or soup mixes
• Vegetables in sauce

“Is Gluten Bad For Me?”

Honestly, that is a phenomenal question, and as with many things when it comes to our health & fitness ... it depends.

Let me elaborate on that. There are a few specific health conditions that can cause your body to not respond well to gluten.

Celiac Disease - this is a condition in which your body views gluten as a threat, which triggers an immune response commonly known as an “autoimmune disorder” ... in which your immune system responds to gluten and actually causes damage to the small intestine.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity - you may have similar symptoms as someone with celiac disease, without the damage to the intestinal tract.

In this case, you may experience things such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or headaches after consuming gluten.

Wheat Allergy - this is NOT the same as celiac disease. It has similarities in the fact that your body has an immune response.

However, it is not specifically from gluten, but wheat itself.

The first thing I ask is if someone is having common symptoms associated with these above situations.

If you are experiencing anything such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or headaches ... this CAN be a sign of a gluten or wheat issue.

However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, people mistake a gluten issue with their body's response to something else they consume.

Maybe you did not drink enough water, you have an electrolyte imbalance, or some other nutrient deficiency that is causing the issue.

Let’s say you are having some of these issues and you want to know if it is caused by a gluten intolerance.

You have two main options that you could approach this with:

1. You could simply remove gluten from your diet for a short period of time and change nothing else.

This would allow you to see if it is the specific issue, if symptoms subside with the removal of gluten or wheat, you may have one of the above-mentioned conditions.

If the symptoms do not subside, then you could be dealing with an entirely different issue.

2. The other option is to seek out help from a physician, who can then assess your symptoms and even test for certain allergies/intolerance.

Once they give you their professional opinion, you will typically get direction on the steps moving forward to alleviate the issues you are having.

Conclusion

To wrap things up and give you some takeaways, gluten is not inherently bad on its own.

It is a protein found in things like wheat that can have a negative effect on some people.

It really comes down to an individual's ability to properly process gluten.

Some may suffer from a specific issue with processing gluten, some may accidentally blame gluten for their issues when it is not the culprit.

But now, you have an understanding of what gluten actually is ... and if it is something you should actually cut out of your diet.

Collin Stark
Collin Stark

NASM Certified Personal Trainer NASM Fitness Nutrition Specialist NASM Certified Nutrition Coach