Gluten - What You Need To Know

September 13 is Celiac Disease Awareness Day

Gluten has become a buzzword in recent years, but do you really understand what it is and why it's a concern for some people? Whilst going gluten free is on trend and is one of the aspects of following a real-food diet, from Paleo to Vegan and anything in-between, it is important to understand why there is so much concern around gluten in the diet. Today, we will review gluten in detail, from its definition and origins to the differences between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, their symptoms, testing methods, and lifestyle modifications for those living gluten-free.

What Is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein composite found in grains like wheat, barley, rye, and their derivatives. It consists of two main proteins, gliadin and glutenin, which provide elasticity to dough, helping it rise and maintain its shape during baking.

In baking, gluten forms a network that traps carbon dioxide produced by yeast or chemical leavening agents. This trapped gas causes the dough to rise, resulting in fluffy bread and baked goods.

Common sources of gluten in the Western diet include bread, pasta, cereals, and baked goods. Gluten can also hide in less obvious foods like soups, sauces, and processed meats and it can even be hidden in personal care products. 

The Problem With Gluten

Celiac Disease: An Autoimmune Disorder 

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten triggers an immune response. This response damages the lining of the small intestine, leading to malabsorption of nutrients and a range of health issues. It's estimated that 1% of the global population has celiac 

In celiac disease, the immune system mistakenly identifies gluten as a threat and launches an attack on the intestinal lining. This immune response triggers inflammation and damages the villi, tiny finger-like projections responsible for nutrient absorption. 

Gluten Sensitivity: A Non-Celiac Condition 

Unlike celiac disease, gluten sensitivity (non-celiac gluten sensitivity or NCGS) is not an autoimmune disorder, nor does it involve the same degree of intestinal damage. However, it can still cause distressing symptoms when gluten is consumed. In gluten sensitivity, the exact mechanisms are less clear, but it does not involve the same immune response seen in celiac disease.

Celiac Disease vs. Gluten Sensitivity

Celiac Disease

Symptoms: Celiac disease can manifest with a wide range of symptoms, including digestive issues like diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain, as well as extraintestinal symptoms like fatigue, joint pain, and headaches.


Diagnosis of celiac disease typically involves a series of tests:

  • Blood tests to measure antibodies like anti-tissue transglutaminase (TG-IgA) and anti-endomysial antibodies (EMA-IgA).
  • A biopsy of the small intestine to assess the extent of damage.

Gluten Sensitivity

Symptoms: Gluten sensitivity symptoms are diverse and can include digestive symptoms (bloating, gas, diarrhea), neurological symptoms (brain fog, headaches), and skin symptoms (eczema, dermatitis herpetiformis).

Diagnosis: Diagnosing gluten sensitivity can be more challenging as there are no specific biomarkers. It often involves excluding celiac disease and wheat allergy and observing symptom improvement on a gluten-free diet.

Common Symptoms of Celiac Disease

Digestive Symptoms

  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting

Extraintestinal Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Nutrient deficiencies

Dermatitis Herpetiformis 

A skin manifestation of celiac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis presents as itchy, blistering skin rashes, often on the elbows, knees, and buttocks.

Common Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity

Digestive Symptoms

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain

Neurological Symptoms

  • Brain fog
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Skin Symptoms
  • Eczema
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis (less common)

Strategies For Living A Gluten-Free Lifestyle

Living gluten-free requires avoiding all sources of gluten, including wheat, barley, rye, and their derivatives. Concentrating on all the delicious foods you CAN have, makes it easier than you might think to live gluten-free. Some strategies to optimize your gluten-free lifestyle include:

Focus on whole, unprocessed foods

The best way to ensure that your diet is gluten-free is to focus on whole, unprocessed foods. This means eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, well-sourced proteins, and healthy fats. These foods are naturally gluten-free and packed with nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy.

Choose gluten-free grains

While wheat, rye, and barley are off-limits, there are plenty of gluten-free grains to choose from. Some of the best options include quinoa, rice, millet, and buckwheat. These grains can be used to make a variety of dishes, from salads and soups to grain bowls and stir-fries.

Learn more about what grains are gluten free and how to use them in this post

Read labels

When shopping for packaged foods, it's important to read labels carefully. Look for foods that are labeled as "gluten-free" or "certified gluten-free." Also, be on the lookout for hidden sources of gluten, such as malt, which is often made from barley.

Cook at home

One of the best ways to ensure that your food is gluten-free is to cook at home. This way, you can control exactly what goes into your meals and avoid cross-contamination from gluten-containing ingredients. Cooking at home can also be a fun and creative way to experiment with new gluten-free recipes. When dining out, communicate your dietary needs to the restaurant staff. Many restaurants now offer gluten-free menus or options.

Plan ahead

Living a gluten-free lifestyle can require a bit of planning ahead. Make sure you have plenty of gluten-free staples on hand. It can also help to plan your meals in advance so that you always have something gluten-free to eat.

Be aware of cross-contamination

Even if a food is naturally gluten-free, it can still become contaminated with gluten during preparation. To avoid cross-contamination, be sure to use separate cooking utensils, cutting boards, and dishes when preparing gluten-free meals. Also, be aware of hidden sources of gluten, such as sauces and seasonings that may contain wheat.

Gluten-free products can be a helpful tool for individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, but they should not be relied on as the sole source of nutrition Gluten-free products can be problematic for several reasons:

Lack of Nutrients: Many gluten-free products are made with refined grains, such as rice flour, cornstarch, and potato starch. These ingredients are often lower in nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals compared to whole grains. Therefore, a diet that relies heavily on gluten-free products may lack important nutrients that are essential for overall health.

Higher in Sugar and Vegetable Oils: Many gluten-free products are higher in sugar and processed fats compared to their gluten-containing counterparts. This is because manufacturers often add extra sugar, fat, and additives to improve the texture and taste of gluten-free products, which can contribute to unhealthy dietary patterns.

Expensive: Gluten-free products are often more expensive than their gluten-containing counterparts. This can make it difficult for individuals on a tight budget to maintain a gluten-free diet, which can be especially challenging for families with multiple members who require a gluten-free diet.

Cross-Contamination: Cross-contamination is a risk when preparing gluten-free products. If gluten-free products are processed in the same facilities as gluten-containing products, there is a risk of contamination. This can be a concern for individuals with celiac disease, as even small amounts of gluten can trigger a reaction.

Misleading Health Claims: Some gluten-free products may have misleading health claims, such as "low-fat" or "organic." These claims can lead consumers to believe that gluten-free products are inherently healthy, which may not always be the case.

Living a healthy, gluten-free lifestyle including lots of whole, real foods can be challenging at first, but with a little bit of knowledge and planning, it's possible to enjoy a varied and delicious diet without gluten. By focusing on unprocessed foods and avoiding the majority of processed gluten-free products, you can live a fulfilling gluten-free lifestyle.

At Pete's Real Food, our entire kitchen is gluten free and you can be rest assured that each meal is carefully prepared using the highest quality ingredients and freshest produce with no risk of cross-contamination, ever! We believe that living a gluten-free lifestyle doesn't mean sacrificing flavor and taste. Pete's Real Food offers a range of meals that are both flavorful and delicious, making it easier to stick to your gluten-free diet without feeling like you are missing out. Read more about our philosophy and our process here

Our weekly offerings include Paleo, Vegan, Keto and AIP lunches and dinners, along with breakfasts and delicious kids’ meals and snacks

Browse our diverse menus and order yours here >>>>>>>

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