What is Gluten and what’s the difference between Celiac disease, wheat allergy and gluten intolerance/sensitivity?

Well, I guess we should start off with the facts and basic information.  I’ve had a couple of people ask me what gluten is and where is it found.  I also wanted to go over the difference between Celiac disease, wheat allergy and gluten intolerance/sensitivity.

What is gluten anyway???
Here is the definition I found on Wikipedia:

Gluten (from Latin gluten, “glue”) is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture. Gluten is used in cosmetics, hair products, and other dermatological preparations.

Gluten is the composite of a gliadin and a glutenin, which is conjoined with starch in the endosperm of various grass-related grains. The prolamin and glutelin from wheat (gliadin, which is alcohol-soluble, and glutenin, which is only soluble in dilute acids or alkalis) constitute about 80% of the protein contained in wheat fruit. Being insoluble in water, they can be purified by washing away the associated starch. Worldwide, gluten is a source of protein, both in foods prepared directly from sources containing it, and as an additive to foods otherwise low in protein.

The stored proteins of maize and rice are sometimes called glutens, but their proteins differ from true gluten.

About 1 in 133 people in developed nations have intolerance to gluten, some of which can be severe enough to be life-threatening.

Buddhist monks discovered gluten in the 7th century. The monks, who were vegetarians, were trying to find a substitute for meat. They discovered that when they submerged dough in water, the starch washed off and all that was left was a meat-like, textured, gummy mass – Gluten.


What is the difference between Celiac disease, wheat allergy and gluten sensitivity or intolerance?

Celiac disease has been known by many different names in the medical literature over the years, including gluten-sensitive enteropathy and celiac sprue (to differentiate it from tropical sprue). CELIAC DISEASE can be defined as a permanent intolerance to the gliadin fraction of wheat protein and related alcohol-soluble proteins (called prolamines) found in rye and barley. CELIAC DISEASE occurs in genetically susceptible individuals who eat these proteins, leading to an autoimmune disease, where the body’s immune system starts attacking normal tissue. This condition continues as long as these food products are in the diet.

The resulting inflammation and atrophy of the intestinal villi (small, finger-like projections in the small intestine) results in the malabsorption of critical vitamins, minerals, and calories. Signs and symptoms of the disease classically include diarrhea, short stature, iron-deficiency anemia and lactose intolerance. However, many patients will also present with “non-classical” symptoms, such as abdominal pain, “irritable bowel”, and osteoporosis. Patients may also be screened for celiac disease because of the presence of another autoimmune disease, such as type I diabetes or thyroid disease, or a family history of celiac disease, without having any obvious symptoms. Serum antibodies can be utilized to screen for celiac disease. However, the key to confirming the diagnosis remains a small intestinal biopsy, and the patient’s subsequent clinical response to a gluten-free diet.

Wheat allergy is one of the top 8 food allergies in the United States. Allergic reactions after eating wheat may include reactions in the skin, mouth, lungs, and even the GI tract. Symptoms of wheat allergy can include rash, wheezing, lip swelling, abdominal pain and diarrhea. The branch of the immune system activated in allergic reactions is different from the branch thought to be responsible for the autoimmune reactions of celiac disease.

Research into non-celiac gluten sensitivity — also known as gluten intolerance — increasingly is proving that you can get serious symptoms from gluten ingestion without having celiac disease.

In a landmark study on gluten sensitivity released in early 2011, prominent celiac researcher Dr. Alessio Fasano concluded that “gluten sensitivity” represents a completely different condition from celiac disease, and most of the people who suffer from gluten sensitivity will never develop celiac.

Just as with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity can cause fatigue, brain fog, and other cognitive problems, including gluten-related attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, Drs. Fasano and Fine claim.

Dr. Fasano says he sees headaches (including gluten-induced migraines) and brain fog in about one-third of the people he has diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity… far more than in celiac disease. People diagnosed with gluten sensitivity also report feelings of gluten-induced depression and anxiety.

So what’s gluten in again???

The following I found on diabetes.org and it’s a pretty good list to keep in mind.

Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley and any foods made with these grains.

Avoiding wheat can be especially hard because this means you should avoid all wheat-based flours and ingredients. These include:

  • White Flour
  • Whole Wheat Flour
  • Durum Wheat
  • Graham Flour
  • Triticale
  • Kamut
  • Semolina
  • Spelt
  • Wheat Germ
  • Wheat Bran

Common foods that are usually made with wheat include:

  • Pasta
  • Couscous
  • Bread
  • Flour Tortillas
  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Muffins
  • Pastries
  • Cereal
  • Crackers
  • Beer
  • Oats (see the section on oats below)
  • Gravy
  • Dressings
  • Sauces

This may seem like a long list, but there are still plenty of gluten-free foods out there! Choose from many fresh, healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, dairy, nuts and gluten-free grains like quinoa or rice. There are also gluten-free versions of many of the foods above available in most grocery stores. You just have to look for them!

Gluten Surprises

You may not expect it, but the following foods can also contain gluten:

  • broth in soups and bouillon cubes
  • breadcrumbs and croutons
  • some candies
  • fried foods
  • imitation fish
  • some lunch meats and hot dogs
  • malt
  • matzo
  • modified food starch
  • seasoned chips and other seasoned snack foods
  • salad dressings
  • self-basting turkey
  • soy sauce
  • seasoned rice and pasta mixes

There are also many additives and ingredients in packaged foods that may contain gluten. Always check labels and ingredient lists for these. For a more comprehensive list of gluten-containing additives, contact your local celiac support group.

A Few Other Points:

Don’t forget that ingredients in food products change frequently, so always check the label before buying packaged foods.

Remember that “wheat-free” does not automatically mean “gluten-free.” While a product may not contain wheat, it can still contain rye or barley in some form.

If you have any question about whether a food contains gluten, contact the manufacturer directly.

The Fuss About Oats

Oats are technically a gluten-free food but they are often contaminated with gluten during growing, harvesting or processing. In the past, many experts recommended completely avoiding oats in addition to wheat, rye and barley for those on a gluten-free diet. Now, some oats are grown and processed separately and are labeled “gluten-free.”

Many people with celiac disease are still advised to avoid oats initially. However, eating gluten-free oats can (the package should be marked gluten free) help provide fiber and other important nutrients in one’s diet. And over time, most people can reintroduce pure oats in small amounts (about 1/2 cup of dry oats per day) without any trouble.

I bet you are thinking:  Well, what CAN I eat then?  LOTS and LOTS of things!!!  I will be adding recipes and snack ideas in the future.  If you are thinking about going gluten free, it’s best to keep in mind that fruits, veggies and meats (except processed meats, always check the label on these) are always allowed as long as what they are being cooked with and served with are also gluten free.  Sauces and dressings are notorious for containing gluten.  I almost cried one day when I looked at my favorite tomato soup and in the ingredient listing it contains wheat flour.  Really?!?!?  I was bummed for a bit and then I realized I could do one of two things.  I could look for a brand of tomato soup that didn’t contain gluten or I could make my own.  The choice was mine and I could still enjoy it when I wanted to.  You can also have rice and corn.  There really are a wide variety of foods and many choices still available to us, so don’t get discouraged.  :)

Gluten Free Gena


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