Gluten is a naturally occurring protein which is found in wheat, barley and rye and products derived from them. Bread, cakes, beer and grain alcohol all contain gluten. As do wheat pasta and soy sauce.
Gluten has two main amino acids glutenin and gliadin. Of the two it is gliadin which is the problematic one.
Gluten is not inherently bad.
The Harvard school of Public Health reported a 2017 study which found no link between gluten and heart disease. In fact, non-celiac individuals who avoid gluten may increase their risk of heart disease ‘due to the potential for reduced consumption of whole grains’.
The same article quotes studies where people with higher intakes of whole grains had lower rates and heart disease, strokes and type 2 diabetes.
When does gluten become a problem?
In asking “what is gluten?” we are really missing the important question. When gluten becomes a problem. People have responses to all sorts of things. Some of them more serious than others. Peanut allergies can be so severe a person can go into anaphylactic shock which is fatal if not dealt with.
Allergies and other reactions
Some people have wheat allergies which cause an allergic type of reaction. These are some symptoms which include swelling, itching or irritation of the mouth or throat, hives, itchy rash or swelling of the skin. In really serious cases could progress as far as anaphylaxis.
A wheat allergy is like a pollen allergy in the way it affects the body. It is different from the other conditions where gluten is a problem. Conditions like celiac disease and gluten intolerance are characterized by different symptoms.
A wheat allergy can be treated in the same way as other allergic reactions. A simple anti-histamine can deal with symptoms which are not too severe. (Of course, this should be properly diagnosed and dealt with under medical supervision.)
There is no ‘cure’ for people who are celiac or non-celiac gluten sensitive. There is no workaround. The only route is to move to a gluten-free diet.
A Gluten-Free Diet
This is much easier than it was even 4 years ago. Gluten-free products have to meet the standard of zero gluten. Products which say they are gluten-free are. Even the price difference is disappearing as more gluten-free products come onto the market.
Gluten-free versions of most things are now available too, even an ice-cold beer.