The Gluten-Free Diet

What Is Gluten

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale.

Other gluten containing varieties in the wheat family include wheat berries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham, kamut, einkorn, and triticale.


Gluten is made up of two sub-proteins: glutenin and gliadin that are found in the endosperm (a type of tissue produced in seeds that are ground to make flour) and nourishes plant embryos during germination.


As an ingredient, gluten forms strands which strengthen dough and create pockets which trap the air released from leavening agents such as yeast. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape.

Gluten acts as a glue that holds food together. Gluten can be found in many types of foods, even ones that would not be expected.

What Grains Have Gluten

Grains are in a family of grasses.  Not all grains contain gluten

The grass family has numerous branches. Wheat rye and barley which contain gliadin, sedalia and hordein proteins respectively are closely related genetically.  They come from similar tribes that also include spelt, gamut, and triticale.

Oats are on a different branch and closely related to rice, Pure uncontaminated oats are believed to be safe for most people with celiac disease although there is a percentage of people that cannot tolerate them.  Rice, corn, millet, sorghum, and many other grains are also safe.

Wheat flour is milled from the seeds of the wheat plant (wheat berries) and contains starches, proteins and fats.  The two main proteins in wheat are glutenin and gliadin.  Glutenin is a very large, loosely coiled protein.  It provides the strength and elasticity of the dough, allowing it to bounce back after it has been pulled.  Gliadin is a much smaller and tightly coiled sphere that provides stretch for the dough.

Bran – the hard outer layer of the wheat kernel which is often removed of the  production of refined flour.  High in fiber and a small amount of fatty acids.

Endosperm – contains 80% starch and 17% protein.  Refined white flour is made from only the endosperm.

Germ – the reproductive part of the seed.  It is rich in enzymes, fat, and flavor.  The germ is a key component in whole grain flour.

In dry flour, these proteins are lifeless strands wrapped around granules of starch.  When they come into contact with water and hydrate, they begin to change shape and the protein strands unwind and begin to link together to form a structural network which is called gluten.  The strands of gluten combine to form a membrane-like network.  The network engulfs the swollen starch granules and gas bubbles (created by yeast, chemical learners like baking powder or whipped egg whites).  The gluten allows the batter to stretch and hold in the gas bubbles as the dough rises and bakes.  This gives wheat bread the structure and chewy texture that most people are familiar with.

Sources of Gluten

There are many food items that may contain gluten often in hidden or unexpected ways. Always read the label of any food product you buy if “gluten-free” is not specified on the label.

Pastas:  penne, spaghetti, tortellini, dumplings, potstickers, couscous, gnocchi and all pasta not specified gluten-free

Noodles: ramen udon, soba (most are made with a combination of wheat and buckwheat flour), spaghetti, and egg noodles. (Note: rice noodles and mung bean noodles are gluten-free)

Breads: roti prata, bao, croissants, pita, naan, bagels, flatbreads, cornbread, potato bread, rolls, croutons, flour tortillas, panko, breadcrumbs

Pastries: muffins, donuts, croissants

Crackers: pretzels, goldfish, graham crackers, table crackers, water crackers

Baked Goods: pineapple tarts, cakes, cookies, pie crusts, brownies

Cereal & Granola:  Always check ingredients.  malt extract/flavoring, oats and wheat are all common ingredients.

Breakfast Foods:, pancakes, waffles, french toast, crepes, bagels, cereal, Milo and biscuits.

Sauces: soy sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, teriyaki sauce, cream sauces made with a roux, any gravy using wheat flour as a thickener

Beer: (unless explicitly gluten-free) and any malt beverages

Asafoetida – usually contains wheat flour

Brewer’s Yeast

Anything else that uses “wheat flour” as an ingredient

Hidden Gluten

Hidden gluten is in when the name of an ingredient does not reflect that it contains gluten.

We tend to think of bread, cereal, and pasta as foods containing gluten but hidden gluten is found in items we don’t typically consider to be grain products.  For example:  beer, soy sauce or malt as an ingredient. The risk of hidden gluten can often be detected by careful label reading and familiarity with what may contain gluten ingredients.

Label Reading

Reading the ingredients label on the foods you buy and knowing what to look for are the keys to identifying and avoiding gluten

The marketplace is exploding with gluten-free products. The best way to check if a product is gluten-free is to look for a gluten-free label with a recognized certification symbol

If a product claims to be gluten-free on the package and is from USA, UK, or Australia, then it is most likely safe to eat as the laws allows packaged foods with less than 20ppm of gluten to be labeled “gluten-free.”

It is important to remember that wheat-free does not necessarily mean gluten-free.

Allergen Declaration

Some packaging has a list of common allergens found in the product. Such allergens include wheat, soy, egg, nuts, and milk. This list can be a quick way to rule something out if the package says: “contains wheat.” However, a lack of allergen labeling does NOT mean that the product is gluten-free. Barley and rye are not in the top eight allergens required to be listed. Be sure to check the ingredients list for other hidden sources of gluten.

When in doubt purchase products that are certified gluten free or opt for fresh whole foods that are naturally gluten-free instead of packaged and processed foods.

Other Names for Gluten

The word “gluten” will rarely be found on an ingredient list.

Common words that indicate the presence of gluten include:

Atta (chapati flour)
barley (flakes, flour, pearl)
bread stuffing
brewer’s yeast
Einkorn (type of wheat)
Emmer (type of wheat)

graham flour
hydrolyzed wheat protein
malt extract
malt syrup
malt flavoring
malt vinegar
malted milk
matzo meal
modified wheat starch

oat bran
oat flour
whole oats (unless they are from pure, uncontaminated oats)
rye flour
wheat bran
wheat flour
wheat germ
wheat starch

Non-Edible Gluten

Gluten can be found in other places than food.

Wheat Germ Oil and Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein are ingredients that are often added to beauty and cleansing products.  Although the gluten protein cannot be absorbed through the skin, it is important to make sure that it is not inadvertently ingested. Be sure to thoroughly wash away and residue of gluten from body and hands before eating.

Lipstick, lipgloss and lip balm may be unintetionally ingested

Play-dough: children may touch their mouths or eat after handling wheat-based play-dough. For a safer alternative, make homemade play-dough with gluten-free flour.

Finger Paints often contain wheat flour as a thickener. Although they are not meant for eating, it is easily possible to get residual paint in the mouth from little fingers.

Paper Maché art projects have a wheat flour base.  Care should be taken when mixing the paste as well as while using it.