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Understanding Gluten

Understanding Gluten

Every few years, certain words get thrown around so often it creates what some call a “fad.” Recently, gluten has been added to that list. Unfortunately, many people treat gluten free diets like a fad without fully understanding the health benefits and consequences of consuming gluten in a diet.Gluten

Dr. Tamara C. Warren, a human nutrition, diet and health specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, provides a well-rounded perspective on gluten.

What is Gluten?

“Gluten is a protein in wheat which helps it rise and keep shape,” Warren explains. “It contains two components: gliadin and glutenin. Gliadin helps bread rise and glutenin is a major protein in wheat flour.”

Gluten reacts differently in individuals.

“When people have no problem with gluten, the protein and other nutrients are absorbed by the intestines,” Warren said. “However, an individual with a gluten intolerance may have an issue with ingesting it.”

Having a gluten intolerance causes a person’s immune system to attack the gluten molecule and the body. Sometimes it can be difficult to digest it completely. When an individual has problems digesting it completely, problems can occur such as constipation or diarrhea, fat malabsorption and nutrient deficiencies.Gluten_Sources

The term “gluten allergy” has become almost synonymous with any type of gluten sensitivity. A gluten allergy or gluten sensitivity comes in many forms.

“An individual does not always have celiac disease,” Warren explains. “Some of the symptoms include weight gain, bloating, fatigue, lactose intolerance, headaches, gas, diarrhea, constipation, swelling, rashes, acid reflux and more.”

The Good and Bad

Although gluten has negative reactions in some individuals digestive systems, gluten is not all bad.

“Gluten itself does not provide nutritional benefits; however, the foods that contain gluten do,” Warren said. “Gluten is found in foods containing wheat, barley, rye, and some processed oats. These foods are rich in vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, iron, and fiber.”

There are some downsides to choosing a gluten-free diet.

“For most people on a gluten-free diet, it is difficult to meet the recommendation of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate for making half your grains whole grains,” Warren said. “These individuals may develop nutrient deficiencies.”

Additionally, many foods that are gluten-free are high in calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar and sodium.


Gluten-free diets can provide obvious benefits like the ones mentioned. For individuals choosing to pursue a gluten-free diet, Warren provides a few tips when preparing meals.

  1. Always read the food label ingredients before purchasing or cooking meals.
  2. Purchase foods such as fresh meats, fish, poultry and some dairy products.
  3. Other good options include fruits, vegetables, rice and potatoes.


Additional Information

Click here for more information about gluten.


About Ariel Reynolds