What is gluten?

There’s a common misconception that gluten is wheat. In reality, a food that is gluten-free is not necessarily wheat-free and vice versa. Gluten is actually a combination of proteins that are found in certain cereals, especially in wheat.If it is medically essential that you follow a gluten-free diet – for example, if you suffer from celiac disease or dermatitis herpetiformis – then you must make sure that the food you eat is entirely gluten-free, not merely wheat-free.

Gliadin, a simple protein derived from rye or wheat gluten, is the component directly responsible for celiac disease, a disease that damages the gut.Why gluten harms the gut is still not medically determined, despite years of research and study.

The most probable theory is that the disease is a result of an abnormal immunologic response, not an enzyme deficiency, as has been previously believed.A gluten-free diet entirely excludes all food composed of or containing wheat, rye, barley and oats. Oats is questionable and some doctors permit their patients to eat foods that contain oats.

The Celiac Society, however, does not support the inclusion of oats. (If you suffer from celiac disease, ask your doctor whether oats is advisable in your particular case.) A point to take note of: Gluten-free flours are often low in protein, since gluten itself is a protein.If you’re following a gluten-free diet, make sure to consume adequate protein in other forms, e.g. nuts, seed, milk and eggs. If you’re a vegetarian who has been diagnosed with celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is possible. There are no known medical or nutritional reasons why you cannot be a vegan celiac, but it does make the dietary aspects more complicated. If you’re committed to both, though, you can do well.

For vegan celiacs, it is even more imperative to ensure adequate protein, as many sources of protein are eliminated because they are incompatible with vegetarianism. Nuts, seed and soy are all good options. It is advisable to speak with a qualified dietician or nutritionist if you want to follow a vegetarian/gluten-free diet.