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What is Gluten? Top Gluten-Free Questions

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Just diagnosed with a wheat allergy, celiac disease, or non-celiac gluten intolerance? Here are the top questions about gluten and gluten-free answered. 

Gluten free diets are on the rise. As more people get a diagnosis of wheat allergies, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or other gluten-related issues, you need answers about gluten. 

More and more options are available in grocery stores and this awareness has made life a bit easier! With more people understanding food allergies, the easier living with allergies or other food issues becomes. 

This article talks about the most common questions people have about gluten, how to avoid it, what foods to avoid, and how to stay safe. 

Make sure you read more about wheat allergies, and find delicious gluten free recipes and gluten free bread recipes. Just because you are allergic or avoiding wheat/gluten, doesn’t mean you can’t have delicious food!

a pile of different types of breads, grains, and wheat stalks

What is gluten? 

Gluten is a common name for proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. This protein is what gives foods like bread their structure and distinctive chew. 

Glutenins and gliadins are the proteins found in wheat, secalins are found in rye, and hordeins are found in barley. 

For people with wheat allergies, it is possible to eat rye and barley if it is certified wheat free. 

However, if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten intolerance, you should never eat any of these ingredients as you are reactive to the gluten protein itself. 

Why can’t I have gluten? 

For some people who are allergic to wheat, your body has an autoimmune response that is triggered by wheat/gluten. Wheat allergies mean that you are allergic to the whole of the wheat, not just the gluten protein. That is what enables you to possibly eat gluten from non-wheat sources like rye or barley. 

For more on wheat allergies, click here

For people with celiac disease, your body’s immune system attacks the cells of the small intestine after you eat gluten. This is an autoimmune disease. 

The exact cause of celiac disease is unknown, but current treatment is a strict adherence to a gluten-free diet. 

For people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), this means that you have symptoms similar to a wheat allergy or celiac disease, but do not test positive for a true allergy or celiac disease. This is a real medical condition that is not well understood but more research is being done. 

Current treatment is a strict adherence to a gluten-free diet. 

For those with irritable bowel syndrome, or other autoimmune disorders, there seems to be an intolerance of wheat. Strict avoidance of wheat/gluten is recommended treatment at this time. 

green text box describing gluten with a small image of a wheat stalk

What foods should I avoid to be gluten-free? 

Wheat and gluten can go by many names. For a full list of names, make sure you check out the article on the wheat allergy. 

In general, you want to avoid the following:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Triticale
  • Malt
  • Grains
    • Whole wheat, wheat bran, barley, rye, triticale, spelt, kamut, couscous, farro, semolina, bulgur, farina, einkorn, duru, wheat germ, cracked wheat, matzo, mir
  • Products like
    • Crackers, breads, breadcrumbs, cookies, cakes, pasta, seitan, soba noodles, some veggie burgers, meat substitutes, pastries, soy sauce, croutons, french fries, snacks, granola, etc
  • Beverages + Sauces
    • Barley malt, beer, ales, lagers, malt vinegar, soy sauce, some salad dressings, sauces or gravies, bouillon, broths, spice blends, flavored chips, some wine or liquor, some processed meats, some prepackaged frozen meals 

Can I have oats on a gluten free diet? 

It depends. For some people, they can have certified gluten free oats and be okay. For others, they cannot. 

The reason is that oats are often processed on the same equipment as wheat/gluten containing products. And while in manufacturing, the equipment is cleaned, there is no way to guarantee that no cross contamination hasn’t occurred. 

If you are very sensitive to wheat/gluten, I would suggest asking your doctor or testing out eating gluten free oats under their supervision. 

What does gluten free mean? 

Gluten free means that the food or recipe does not contain any gluten or any gluten containing ingredient. That makes it safe to eat for people with wheat allergies or celiac disease. 

What are gluten and wheat allergy symptoms? 

Symptoms of wheat and gluten intolerance can be very different depending on the person and their unique diagnosis. 

Some common symptoms include:

  • Digestive issues: abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, inflammation of the gut
  • Skin problems: eczema, hives, rashes, skin inflammation 
  • Neurological issues: anxiety, brain fog, confusion, depression, difficulty speaking, fatigue, lack of focus, numbness
  • Allergy symptoms: rash, hives, swelling of the mouth, anaphylactic reactions, difficulty breathing, coughing, trouble swallowing
  • Other: anemia, diminished immune function, headaches, nutrient deficiencies, weight loss 
white text box with symptoms of gluten intolerance next to a picture of dried pasta

When should I see a doctor? 

If you think that you have an allergy or intolerance of wheat and gluten, you should see a healthcare professional, either your doctor, allergist, or gastrointestinal doctor, right away. 

Don’t remove gluten from your diet before seeing the doctor. Some things, like celiac disease, need you to be eating gluten in order to get an accurate result. 

Do I need to eat gluten free?

If you have been diagnosed with a wheat allergy, celiac disease, non-celiac gluten intolerance, or have been told to go gluten free by your doctor, then YES you need to eat gluten free. 

If you have not been diagnosed with any of the above, then NO you do not need to eat gluten free. Gluten free recipes and foods can be a part of your overall healthy diet, but you should not exclude wheat/gluten from your diet if you can safely eat it. 

What foods and vitamins should I add to my diet if I’m gluten free? 

What to eat on a gluten free diet? 

A surprising number of foods are naturally gluten free and many products at the store are now made in certified gluten free facilities. 

Fruits and Vegetables: All fresh fruits and vegetables are gluten free. However, processed fruits and vegetables (such as canned goods, frozen goods, etc) have gluten added during the manufacturing process. Always read labels to be sure. 

Grains: White rice, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, corn, amaranth, buckwheat, flax, millet 

Proteins: Fresh and unflavored proteins like red meat, beef, pork, lamb, bison, chicken, turkey, seafood, nuts, seeds, legumes, soy, tofu, tempeh, and edamame 

Avoid all breaded protein unless they are specifically labeled gluten free. Read the labels of any protein that is processed (hot dogs, sausages, deli meats, etc). 

Dairy products: Most dairy products are gluten free. Always read the labels on flavored ingredients, like yogurts or sauces, to make sure they are gluten free. 

Pre-shredded cheeses, yogurts with granola, cottage cheese with granola, and ice cream is a source of hidden gluten. Make sure to always read the ingredients label to make sure they are gluten free. 

Fats and Oils: Almost all fats and oils are gluten free. Use caution with cooking sprays. 

Herbs and Spices: Most single herbs and spices are gluten free. Spice blends can often contain hidden gluten. Make sure to read labels and if in doubt, don’t use it. 

Is gluten bad for me? 

Gluten is only bad for you if you have a wheat allergy, celiac disease, or some other condition that makes you intolerant of gluten. 

Will eating gluten free help me lose weight? 

While eating gluten free can be part of a healthy diet, no, I don’t recommend eating gluten free if your goal is to lose weight. 

collage of hidden sources of gluten including breads, pasta, soy sauce, beer, and French fries

Is white flour made with gluten? 

Yes, white flour, all-purpose flour, self-rising flour, bread flour, and unbleached flour are all made with gluten. They are not safe for people who are avoiding wheat/gluten. 

For a safe gluten free flour blend, check out this homemade flour blend, or purchase my personal favorite flour blend here

Is rice gluten free? 

Yes, white rice, brown rice, and more types of rice are naturally gluten free. Make sure you purchase 100% rice that is not made with any additives or thickeners as they can contain gluten. 

However, you need to read the ingredient labels when making and eating things like rice pilafs because many times those do contain gluten/wheat. 

Do potatoes have gluten?

No, whole pure potatoes from the produce section do not contain gluten and are safe to eat. 

However, instant potatoes, frozen french fries, and other processed potatoes often have hidden gluten in their ingredients. Always read the ingredient label to make sure you are safe. 

Can I eat sourdough bread if I’m gluten free? 

No, sourdough bread is made from wheat flour and contains gluten. 

What bread can I eat if I’m gluten free? 

There are many types of gluten free bread available to purchase in the stores or to make at home! 

Some of my personal favorite brands of gluten free bread include:

Canyon BakeHouse

Udi’s Hamburger and Hotdog buns 

Little Northern Bakehouse 

What alcohol can I have if I’m gluten free? 

For a full list of what alcohol you can have, please read my guide to gluten free alcohol!

If you try these out, please leave a comment below! This provides helpful feedback to both me and other readers. And if you want more delicious, dietary friendly recipes you can subscribe to my newsletter and follow along on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook!

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