What is gluten?
Gluten is one of the proteins found in certain grains. When consumed, this protein triggers an autoimmune response (akin to an allergic reaction) in those individuals who are gluten-intolerant. The gluten protein is present in wheat, barley, and rye, and it contaminates other foods grown near these grains.
Since these are common grains in a Western European diet, it’s difficult to avoid them without learning a new skill: carefully reading the labels on food products. The ingredients of most processed foods you’re likely to find at the market contain hidden gluten, all of which should be avoided while on a gluten-free diet. It’s very important to learn what to look for to avoid gluten in your diet.
Wheat contains gluten
The proteins in wheat are called gliadin and gluten. Wheat can be found in “graham flour”, “farina”, “matzo”, “seitan” (“wheat meat”), wheat berries, wheat germ, wheat grass, wheat gluten, wheat nut, wheat starch. Wheat is one of the major allergens and will usually warrant a special label. Watch for it. Types of wheat include Bulgur, Durum, Einkorn, Emmer, Kamut, Semolina, Spelt.
Barley contains gluten
The protein in barley is called hordein. Barley is present in many foods under the labels of “malt”, “flavorings”, and “colorings”. This one is tricky since barley is not a major allergen and won’t have a special label. Read carefully.
Rye contains gluten
The protein in rye is called secalin. Rye is commonly fermented for many types of alcohol. Rye is not a major allergen so you’ll need to read carefully to find it. Rye breads normally contain a large amount of wheat, by the way.
Oats may or may not contain gluten
The protein in oats is called avenin. Oats are found in oat bran, oat fiber, and oat gum.
Officially oats are gluten-free. However, 10% of all people who are gluten intolerant react to them because the proteins are very similar. Most avoid eating them because most oats (gluten-free or not) are heavily cross-contaminated with wheat.
There are special gluten-free oats available if you would like to test your reaction to them.