Health and Fitness: What is gluten, anyway?

Katie Tolley
Posted 11/9/17

Gluten is the latest buzz word in nutrition. But, so many people have no idea what it is.

When friends of mine with PhDs start asking for more info, it’s time for an article about gluten and …

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Health and Fitness: What is gluten, anyway?


Gluten is the latest buzz word in nutrition. But, so many people have no idea what it is.

When friends of mine with PhDs start asking for more info, it’s time for an article about gluten and why it’s a problem.

So, What is Gluten?

Gluten is a the protein found in the seed of wheat, barley, and rye. Here is definition from

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (wheatberries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham, KAMUT® khorasan wheat and einkorn), rye, barley and triticale – a cross between wheat and rye.

Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. Gluten can be found in many types of foods, even ones that would not be expected.

Why is it a problem?

Gluten per se isn’t the problem for everyone (more on that below). It’s the amount of gluten in the standard American diet, and the tampering of the native seed.

When you look at the diets of most Americans, approximately 80 percent of meals have a gluten component. There is too much bread, breading, pasta, crackers, croutons, tortillas, etc. in our meals.

Inflammation, other issues

Gluten can be inflammatory for many people, too much gluten can be inflammatory for anyone. Inflammation can lead to other chronic diseases, I talk more about that in my article explaining how inflammation is the root of most disease.

Chronic inflammation occurs because of a process called intestinal hyperpermeability, a.k.a., leaky gut. I explain this process and how it leads to chronic inflammation in my first digestive health article.

The lifelong health issues I have come from being sensitive to gluten and dairy, but I do not have Celiac Disease and my sensitivity does not show up on allergy testing. That means absolutely nothing though. I learned more about gluten sensitivity from a gastro-intestinal (GI) specialist last spring during a pediatric conference at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Here are the numbers:

• 10 percent of our population has Celiac Disease

• These people cannot eat gluten without major symptoms.

• Many people in our population are undiagnosed. Continuing to eat gluten will cause multiple health problems. Think ADHD, thyroid issues, irritable bowel, autism, epilepsy, and the list goes on.

• 40 percent of our population has gluten sensitivity

• Symptoms are more subtle than celiac disease: stomach pain, headache, sinus issues, eczema, constipation, brain fog, lethargy, food cravings, mood swings, depression, anxiety, focus issues, etc.

• It will get worse.

• It will cause chronic inflammation and intestinal hyperpermeability.

• It will most likely cause celiac disease if gluten is continually consumed, and will definitely lead to a host of other disease processes.

If you read some research, please note, some people in modern medicine will tell you there is no way to confirm gluten sensitivity. This is not true!

But there is a way to check

There is a way for doctors to check for gluten sensitivity. It’s as easy as running a simple blood test for gluten immunoglobulins.

I know this, because that’s how we found out my son cannot have gluten. When his holistic doctor did labs, the antibodies for gluten and wheat were five to six times normal.

His celiac tests and allergy tests are negative. I also know this because one of the top specialist in GI pediatrics told me all the same stuff himself with research and a groovy powerpoint presentation.

One of the biggest reasons we need more awareness and sensitivity is the vast amount of food that contains gluten, and the vast amount of people, especially children that should not be eating it. If we look at the percentages above, 50 percent of our population should avoid gluten, yet, 80-90 percent of our public food choices contain gluten.

Our children and the future

This is a huge problem for our children and our future.

If you think it’s hard to function as an adult with stomach pain and headaches and brain fog, try being a kid, sitting in school after eating mostly gluten for breakfast and lunch and having anxiety and mood swings.

Is it the kid? No, it’s his food, and it’s changing his future! And, he’s a problem in class sitting next to your kid - that’s why you should care.

I could go on about how reducing our gluten intake has changed my family’s health, but I’ll invite you to read through my blog a little more to find that out, there’s plenty of evidence.

I share because I care. I want a better world for me and you and our children.

Please, practice wellness so you live a happier and healthier life. Your loved ones will be awfully glad you did. Enjoy the journey!

Editor’s Note: Katie Tolley is a Cambridge resident. She is a mother, wife and pediatric nurse practitioner who coaches holistic health and wellness. Her website is

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