Uncovering the Mystery: What is Gluten?

Gluten. You’ve seen the “g-word” on product packaging and on restaurant menus. You’ve heard Jimmy Kimmel continuously use it in his standup. But, do you actually know what it is?

I doubt it. Why? Because most people don’t. Unless of course, you or someone else you know has a gluten sensitivity/allergy or celiac disease. But even then, I’d still bet you aren’t 100% sure.

See for yourself. Jimmy Kimmel went to the streets and asked people – “what is gluten?” -and the mass majority didn’t have a clue.

Luckily though, I do.

Aside from being my kryptonite, it’s actually a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and a slew of other grains. It’s the secret ingredient that gives these types of products their texture, whether that be their light and airiness or their rich and thickness.

For you visual learners, imagine biting into a piece of cake. You know that sponginess? Thank Gluten.

So what’s the big deal? Why do people like me and millions of others across the globe (Yes, millions. About 1 in 133 Americans alone have celiac disease, and that’s one of the smallest percentages of the global population not consuming it.) avoid gluten like the plague?

Well, for starters, it’s not easy for your body to digest. It’s significantly more challenging for our bodies to break down in comparison to the other foods we consume. And if you happen to be diagnosed with celiac disease, then it’s also harmful to your body.

How so?

Say for example, I, a person with celiac disease, hypothetically were to chow down on a piece of bread. As I take the first few bites, the gluten goes into my digestive tract and my body freaks out.

Seriously, my immune system steps in to take one for the team, attempting to fend off this “foreign” object, and in turn, ends up fighting so hard that it damages my small intestine and all of its villi (a hair-like appendage within the small intestine that helps you absorb the nutrients in all the food we eat) with it.

As a result, my body can’t extract all of the nutrients from the food I consume leading me to develop all sorts of other complications down the road with my health like malnutrition, osteoporosis, anemia, intestinal cancers, lymphoma, and infertility. The list goes on and on.

Therefore, those with celiac disease don’t eat it, and probably never will again.

Check out the infographic below. It gives a digestible (hah get it) overview of what gluten really is with visuals that really paint the full picture.