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The basics of gluten

GlutenFree.com Editorial Staff | August 2013 | 3 min read

1_gluten_basics

Gluten is the common name for proteins in specific grains, like wheat, rye, barley and triticale. Other related grains, including durum, einkorn, Kamut® khorasan wheat, semolina, spelt/spelta, faro and emmer, also contain gluten. And, while oats themselves do not contain gluten, they are often cross-pollinated with other grains and contain a protein (avenin) structurally similar to gluten’s protein (gliadin) when processed. As a result, some gluten-sensitive people cannot tolerate oats.

Because gluten gives elasticity to dough and provides chewiness to breads and baked goods, it is often found in many pantry staples, including breads, white and whole wheat pastas, baking flours, and cereals. This is a list of common products that likely contain gluten unless the package has a “gluten-free” label: 
  • Beer
  • Breads
  • Cakes and pies
  • Candies
  • Cereals
  • Cookies and crackers
  • Croutons
  • French fries
  • Gravies
  • Imitation meat or seafood
  • Matzo
  • Pastas
  • Processed luncheon meats
  • Salad dressings
  • Sauces, including soy sauce
  • Seasoned rice mixes
  • Seasoned snack foods, such as potato and tortilla chips
  • Self-basting poultry
  • Soups and soup bases
  • Vegetables in sauce

Additionally, gluten is found in a number of other products, including cosmetics, vitamins and some pharmaceutical medications. It is important for people who are looking to avoid gluten to read product labels and educate themselves about ingredients.

During digestion, gluten’s two main protein groups, gliadins and glutenins, break down into smaller units. In people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, the body’s natural defense system reacts to these proteins by attacking the lining of the small intestine. Without a healthy intestinal lining, the body cannot absorb the nutrients it needs. This can lead to delayed growth, nutrient deficiencies, anemia or osteoporosis and, in more serious cases, result in diabetes, other autoimmune diseases, and intestinal cancers. 

However, there are more and more sources of food products without gluten. Following a gluten-free diet and avoiding the above-listed grains is very important for people with conditions like celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. 

Sources:

Food and Drug Administration | Mayo Clinic

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