What the Heck is Gluten Anyway?

In my last post, I wrote with studied nonchalance that I could buy a Maserati if I had $1000 for every time someone asked if eggs have gluten. (You know the old cliché “if I had a nickel…” but updated for inflation.) The truth is, a few short weeks before I found out that I had celiac disease – commonly explained as a gluten allergy, but actually an autoimmune disease – I wouldn’t have known gluten from garam masala, grapefruit, gelato or guacamole. I was in the dark. What the heck was gluten?

The definition of gluten is a protein composite found in certain grains such as wheat, rye and barley (including malt, a derivative of barley and common food product). Oats can also problem because of cross-contamination and other reasons, which I’ll explain in another post, but for the meantime avoid oats that are not marked “gluten free”. Although many folks with a gluten issues also have dairy issues, gluten is not naturally found in milk, yogurt or cheese, and avoiding gluten does not necessarily mean that you need to avoid dairy.

So that’s great, but what does this really mean? When you want to remember what gluten is or go to the store to buy gluten free food, what do you look for?

OK. Here’s the quintessential gluten product right here:


Next time your celiac or gluten intolerant friend says, “I can’t eat gluten…” and you are racking your brain to remember what that means, think glazed honey bun. Gluten. Done.

When you want to remember what the heck gluten is, think glazed honey bun.

Folks who are gluten-free-by-choice stop there. They don’t need to read labels trying to figure out whether maltodextrin means there is malt (it doesn’t) or if corn gluten will cause problems (it doesn’t). The proliferation of GLUTEN FREE, BUY ME labeling – although still not required by law, which is a huge issue – has helped matters, it also encourages well-meaning friends and family to stock up on processed food with the goal of helping “ease the pain” of a gluten free life with what are often shoddy substitutes. (No disrespect to the great people making awesome gluten free products. The market has improved tremendously. But well-meaning friends and family don’t always know where or how to get the good stuff.)

As I mentioned on my last post, gluten free label reading is a whole topic onto its own, but it’s worth mentioning that gluten sneaks into the processing of some foods where you would never expect it, like lunchmeat and rice milk. This is because gluten is such an amazing substance, and (as much of the food industry cares about sales more than health) it’s cheap to use. It makes life very difficult for a gluten-free newbie and the support group forming around him or her, but I’m living proof that it does get better. And hey, if wine works for you, I have never met a wine that wasn’t gluten free!


For my Spanish-speaking readers, avoid the following:

Para hispanohablantes, evita:



About Glutenfreelandia

Glutenfreelandia - It's where I live. Do you live there too? This blog is devoted to the joy, peace, health and struggle of living a gluten free life. For celiacs, gluten intolerants and those who love them. Glutenfreelandia - es donde vivo yo. Y tú? Este blog está dedicada a la alegría, la paz, la salud y la lucha de vivir una vida libre de gluten. Para los celíacos, intolerantes al gluten y los que los aman.
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