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PhiNotPi's avatar

What is gluten, and why would gluten be bad for you?

Asked by PhiNotPi (12282 points ) February 3rd, 2013

As far as I know, gluten is simply a structural protein found in wheat, which is useful in making bread rise.

Several food companies seem to be promoting gluten-free foods and gluten-free diets. What does gluten do that people are concerned about?

Is gluten actually a structural protein, or does it have other biological functions?

Are there any legitimate reasons to go on a gluten-free diet, such as medical conditions? Or is most of the gluten-free craze a result of marketing?

I’m asking this question because I’ve seen a lot of gluten-free products on supermarket shelves lately. The advertisements heavily imply that gluten is harmful, although I am not aware of any reason that this would be a case.

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8 Answers

hearkat's avatar

My mother has Celic Sprue, which is a condition where gluten damages the lining of the intestine. She was diagnosed in the 1990s by biopsy because the blood test hadn’t been developed yet. Prior to her diagnosis, she was having terrible gastrointestinal problems, lost a lot of weight, and was very anemic. She also had a lot of issues with bone-density loss, which we suspect was partially caused by malabsorption of calcium from when she was so sick. They tested her for everything under the sun but couldn’t find any tumors or anything. She has been gluten-free for a long time now, and her health is much better. Her primary physician says that she is one of the few patients she has that are over 70 and take no medications on a regular basis.

Some people suspect gluten for causing all sorts of problems, from bad skin, to auto-immune disorders, to behavioral and developmental problems in children. It’s rather in-vogue to eat gluten-free nowadays. I suspect that the improvements those people see are due to eating less processed food in general, not just gluten. For example, I have found that I am allergic to sulfites, which occur naturally in some foods (such as fermented items like wine) but are also used as coloring and preservative ingredients in many other products. Cutting processed foods from my diet has helped. I still eat gluten, but we make our own breads and pastas at home now.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Gluten is wheat-based protein. Gluten gives elasticity to bread dough, helps it to rise, and gives bread a pleasant chewy texture. When gluten is extracted from wheat flour, it forms a very nutritious, vegetarian food. In the United States, this food is often called seitan.

Some people are allergic to gluten and should avoid it. For the rest of us, I don’t know of any bad effects. I’ve been a gluten-eating vegetarian for about 25 years, and I’m a big fan of the food.

josie's avatar

Book to read is Wheat Belly
It will change your life.

Unbroken's avatar

Well I have celiac’s disease. Combined with several other conditions. And food sensitivities. I would not say gluten is not healthy or safe for most people to consume as we are all made up differently.

Also many gluten free products can contain as much processed food as others and replacement grains can lead to weight gain.

That being said I am sensitive to noticing certain bloatedness, puffy eyes, tiredness or food coma after eating and other specific and easily observed symptoms that could be attributed to gluten sensitivity or other food allergies and or many other health conditions a person has.
I realize most people don’t welcome any suggestions for testing even though it is widely underdiagnosed.

One reason could be due to the responsibility and life style change they have to impose on themselves. And that it is a life long condition.

To have to make a change before they are absolutely forced to, well that would be silly and uncomfortable when they could just go around treating symptoms and living in pain.

Ok rant over. Almost all processed products have either gluten or lactose (some of us develop allergies to various foods lactose being number 1) in them or were contaminated by factories that process those foods. Making a lot of food toxic to celiac’s.

Having gluten free products target new people and is an easy way to charge obscene amounts of money for food as there is very little competition. But that is changing slowly.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

My mom has IBS and has to avoid gluten.

geeky_mama's avatar

There are several conditions (Celiac among them) that might cause a person to need to avoid gluten – but what’s really driving a lot of people (who do not specifically have a food allergy) to avoid it is that they are feeling ill effects from eating it.

Here’s an interesting article to give you a scientific reason for why people are avoiding gluten.

As for why people are feeling ill effects, Food engineering has increased the average percentage of gluten in wheat from 4 percent to about 14 percent in the past few years. So, bread is nothing like what it used to be – wheat isn’t like the wheat our parents or grandparents used at all.

From my own family’s personal experience – I have a cousin with Krohn’s disease and Celiac (who has needed multiple surgeries due to his digestive health issues) and my mother developed Fibromyalgia with terrible cramping (muscle cramps on her scalp, face and legs and arms that were debilitating)—and when her doctor finally gave up on neurological solutions and had her try a gluten-free diet she had COMPLETE resolution of all her symptoms.

Can you imagine having debilitating pain for years and years and then – just by altering your daily diet being completely pain free? She feels like it was a miracle—but also she’s rather annoyed that had she known about the food engineering causing the underlying issue she might have been spared years of pain – and cramps in her face that literally made it so bad she couldn’t drive her car or work at times.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Also, some doctors are starting to recommend a gluten-free diet for children with ADD/ADHD.

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