Most of us don’t know what gluten actually is, but we sure do experience it when we eat breads and pastries. When the flour is mixed with water, gluten acts like a glue (that’s where the name comes from!) and gives bread its’ characteristic soft, chewy texture we all love. Unfortunately, what makes bread so delicious is also the one thing individuals with Celiac can’t have!

The fact that people with Celiac can’t have gluten is fairly obvious and you’re probably thinking “Duh. Tell me something new.” So here’s a new question to ponder: what exactly is gluten? We know it comes from wheat and other grains, but what is it?

Fear not! We’ve got you covered. Below, we go pretty deep into what gluten is, but don’t worry! You’ll come out strong and empowered, knowing what gluten really is and what to avoid if you’re gluten-free!

What is Gluten?

Gluten is certain proteins found in the endosperm of certain grains like wheat, rye, barley, and bulgur (What’s the endosperm? It’s the part of the grain that is ground up to make flour). These gluten proteins provide the necessary sustenance for cute little germinating seedlings to become full-fledged adult plants. So consider gluten like those mashed-up carrots in baby food – they’re there to make the grains big and strong, ready for the world!

As mentioned, the endosperm is the part of the seed that’s ground up and turned into flour – and unfortunately, that’s where most of that sneaky gluten protein is found. Before you go thinking that you can eat the germ and bran, stop! There’s still small amounts of gluten in each (also think about cross-contamination during processing – not good!) and for individuals with Celiac, they’re both a no-go.

The gluten protein goes by different names according to the grain. Wheat has two gluten proteins –gliadin and glutenin. Barley has hordeins. Rye has secalins. Now that you’ve read those names, you can forget them and just remember that gluten = protein!

What Foods Have Gluten?

As we’ve mentioned, gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, and bulgur flour, as well as any product that contains those flours. Obviously food made from gluten-ful flour like doughnuts, pizza dough, and rye bread have gluten, but others can surprise you: soy sauce, chicken stock, and malt beverages often have gluten. When in doubt, read the ingredients!

Why Do I Need to Know All This?

So that’s a lot of facts. “What’s the point of all this?” you might be wondering. There’s lots of reasons! Here are a just a few:

Knowledge is power. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. So you can look smart when people ask.

Still need more? Well, not only knowing what you can and can’t eat, but also what it actually is and where it’s found deepens your own knowledge of the food you eat (or don’t eat) and how your body interacts with it, allowing you to create a healthy diet and lifestyle for yourself for years to come.