What Exactly Is Gluten?

To follow up on my last blog about supporting those who must eat gluten free, I thought I would continue with another basic topic--what exactly is gluten?

Think of this as your “elevator” speech, a relatively concise answer in under a couple of minutes you can use if and when someone asks you about gluten.

So you know, and as a caveat, I am not a nutritionist or a medical practitioner of any sort. Rather, I am a lay person who, like you, eats and happens to be living with or around someone with celiac disease. This information was synthesized from several sites found easily by search engine on the internet. If you are unsure about the accuracy of any of this information, by all means, consult your own physician or nutritionist.

Without going into too much scientific detail on gluten, which is not the intent, simply, gluten is the proteins found only in the mature seeds (or grain) of wheat, barley, and rye grasses and of wheat’s relatives: einkorn, farro, kamut, spelt, and triticale. It is the gluten proteins in these grains that give dough its elasticity and end up in the food we eat (or drink) made from these grains.

It’s important to note that gluten is only found in the grains mentioned above and not others, such as rice and oats. However, be aware that rice and especially oats can be exposed to gluten through cross-contamination during processing.

To add to that simple definition, proteins are large biological molecules made up of organic compounds of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen residues called amino acids. Among other things, proteins are important in the human diet to obtain essential amino acids through digestion for metabolism, the chemical reactions that occur in organisms and, to make a long story short, give us energy.

To put this in context, and a topic for further exploration, it is the adverse reaction one has to gluten that calls for a gluten-free diet.

So if anyone should ask, now you know what gluten is.