Wheat, Barley and Rye, Oh my!


Why can't my stomach handle gluten?  What am I missing that other people have?  What is gluten exactly?


Gluten is the combination of gliadin and glutelin.  These two proteins are found in wheat, barley, and rye.  Gluten gives things consistency and thickness.  It is also a mechanism used to keep food preserved.  Therefore, it is in a lot of soups, canned goods, deli meats, and sauces. 

People who have an 'issue' with gluten fall under two categories.  Those with Celiac Disease and those with a gluten-intolerance.  Celiac Disease is genetic and is tested for in blood tests and can be discovered in an upper endoscopy.  A gluten intolerance is when gluten cannot be digested.  Anything with gluten in it passes quickly through the small intestines and the body doesn't absorb any of the nutrients in the food.  This can lead to malnutrition because the body is not receiving the essential nutrients it needs due to anything with gluten in it being digested too quickly or barely at all.

Doctors were skeptical about the possibility of people being intolerant to gluten without having Celiac.  However, within the past decade doctors are accepting this more and more and recommending a gluten free diet to their patients.  According to a study published by BMC medicine, 10% of the population has an intolerance to gluten.  This study also shows that Celiac disease is being diagnosed a lot more frequently than it was 20 years ago.  Doctors hypothesize this is due to the 'hygiene theory.'  The hygiene theory basically says that our environments are "ultra-clean" and children aren't being exposed to antigens that occur in the environment when their immune systems are being developed.  Therefore, the digestive organs have not been exposed to enough antigens to know how to deal with them properly.

The good news is, food companies are becoming more and more aware of the growing number of people affected by Celiac disease and gluten intolerances.  The Gluten Intolerance Group tests products and labels them as Gluten Free with this specific label:


The ingredients list on the back of all packaged goods has a list of food allergens that are present in the product.  A common misconception is that wheat free is gluten free, but it is not.  Gluten is sneaky and found in barley, malt, malt vinegar, rye, triticale, wheat, durum, graham, kamut, semolina, and spelt.  I know that some of those words make no sense, but most processed foods have them as a thickener or preservative.

In my personal experience, trial and error led to figuring out that I had an intolerance to gluten.  Going gluten free made me actually feel good.  My stomach stopped hurting and I was able to stop worrying about if I was going to have a bad reaction to something I ate.  I was surprised that gluten wasn't just in wheat and that it was used in a lot of different types of food.

Surprising foods that have gluten:

  • Low fat dairy products
  • Vodka (Some made from wheat)
  • Soy Sauce
  • Gum
  • Flavored Coffee Syrups (Starbucks is gluten free though!)
  • Licorice
  • Imitation Crab Meat (used in Sushi)

Gluten Free Foods! ("Normal" Ones)
  • General Mills Chex Cereal
  • Yoplait Yogurt
  • Boar's Head Deli Meats
  • Quaker Rice Cakes
  • Rice
  • Corn Tortillas
  • Necco Wafers
  • Fritos
  • Cool Ranch Doritos 

I hope this was interesting and informative and made gluten free seem less weird!


Hey Quinn,

I’m no stranger to the gluten-free world myself. My mom has Celiac, so I’ve grown up accustomed to all of what you were describing. I’ve been tested time and time again, and have followed a gluten-free diet at different points in my life as well.

I love that you used this space to spread knowledge of Celiac. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), one in every 133 Americans has Celiac Disease, but only 5% are properly diagnosed. Misdiagnosis and lack of diagnosis are far too common. It results in continued suffering, which causes physical, emotional, and financial burdens on people.

In years past, celiac testing was really only done by blood test or scopes. Now there is the genetic testing option. This is a pretty cool option since even if you don’t currently have symptoms; this test would show if you have the possibility of developing the disease in the future. This is great for children like me who know we have a predisposition for celiac. By learning if I could ever develop the disease, I could prepare my body by eliminating the gluten before I harm my body. This test is also useful if someone wants to give blood, since Celiac is an autoimmune disease (people with autoimmune diseases are unable to give blood).

Years ago when I interned at the NFCA I heard talk of scientists working on a pill similar to a Lactaid pill. I’ll look into this further and do a follow-up post if I find any research that’s progressing.

In the meantime, I suggest checking out some excellent quinoa recipes and pretty much any Schar product!

Here is the link to the source I used above.

Last summer I went backpacking with a friend with Celiac Disease and I realized just how difficult it is to have to plan for all your meals without gluten.
As far as being gluten-intolerant though, I found that there are a lot of foods that you can develop an intolerance for.
My mom, in fact, recently made herself lactose intolerant by eating too much Greek yogurt which is very high in protein. Her doctor had explained to her that by eating that much calcium with additional calcium supplements, she had forced her body to become lactose intolerant; meaning that her body could not produce enough of the enzyme lactase to digest the lactose.
I'm not so skeptical about people developing intolerance without the genetics behind it. After all, if you eat the same food everyday your body becomes malnutritioned. It is possible then that in extreme scenarios that your body could become intolerant to such foods.

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