What Gluten Free Really Means

What Gluten Free Really Means

In case you haven’t been paying attention… or living under a rock.. Gluten has been under attack. Gluten free has now become one of those buzzwords. People hear gluten free and think it’s the newest healthy thing they can do for themselves. Gluten has become the new evil along with high fructose corn syrup, saturated fats, (insert food product here). So we should all avoid it, right?

 What IS gluten?

Don’t have an answer? It’s okay. You aren’t alone.

Jimmy Kimmel did a segment a couple weeks ago where he asked people in the park what gluten is. Surprisingly, not a single person could identify what it was. They could tell you what it is in, why they’ve been told not to eat it, and basically everything else about gluten free. But not what it is. Turns out it’s pretty comical that people are avoiding gluten but have not a clue what it is.

Gluten is a protein found in foods processed from wheat to grains like barley, rye, and spelt. Gluten is what gives dough its’ elasticity and actually the word gluten is Latin and it translates as “glue”. Gluten is what helps our breads rise, keep their shape, and often gives the final product a chewy texture. But gluten isn’t only found in our breads and baked goods, it is also found in cosmetics, hair products, and other beauty products. Gluten is also the base for imitation meats, can be found in beer, soy sauce, and used as a stabilizing or texturizing agent for things like ice cream and ketchup. 

So Why Is Gluten Bad?

Many people point to insensitivity to gluten and the rise of celiacs disease as a factor in demonizing gluten and wheat products. It is true that celiac’s disease has risen by nearly four times in the last 50 years. But still, at most, only 1%- 2% of the population has been diagnosed with celiacs disease whereas 50 years ago only about 0.2% – 0.5% of the population was diagnosed with celiacs.

Outside of that 1% – 2% of people with celiacs, many others have come forward with gluten sensitivity, now called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It is estimated that nearly 7% of the population suffers from this insensitivity. Why is this? Well no one really has an answer. There are plenty of theories out there but science has yet to give us a definitive answer. Peter Gibson, a Professor of Gastroenterology, whose original study triggered the current gluten-free craze, has found some interesting new conclusions from his latest study. Gibson’s first study still stands as one of the best examples of key evidence for non-celiac gluten sensitivity; however, his new study shows the opposite of his prior findings.

Is Gluten Bad For Us. Prairie Californian

New Study Finds Gluten NOT a Trigger

You can read the specifics of Gibson’s latest rigorous study. But he concluded the study saying “In contrast to our first study, we could find absolutely no specific response to gluten.” And instead suggested that FODMAPS (ferementable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates) are a far more likely cause of the gastrointestinal problems people attribute to gluten intolerance. Gibson noted that when participants consumed low-FODMAP diets, nearly all of their reported symptoms improved. Concidentially, gluten found in many of the same products as FODMAPs (specifically bread products) are also removed when eating gluten free, which explains why people who believe they have a sensitivity feel better after eating gluten-free.

It is important to note that an insensitivity or food allergy is NOT the same as celiacs. In fact the two have very different reactions in our body. An insensitivity or food allergy causes the body’s antibodies to attack something they view as foreign or an invader. Celiac’s disease is an auto-immune disease which means that the person’s immune system attacks the body itself. When a person with celiacs disease consumes gluten it causes the immune system to begin attacking the lining of the intestinal wall which is responsible for absorbing nutrients from food. Together, the lack of nutrients and the immune system attacking the body is what causes people with celiacs to suffer and potentially be in danger when they consume gluten.

The potential adverse health affects of gluten for those who have celiacs disease OR the unfavorable physiological effects from having gluten sensitivity has created this idea that gluten is somehow toxic and harmful to all. But for those of us who don’t suffer an intolerance or celiacs disease, gluten is perfectly normal for us to consume. It’s like saying that peanuts are bad for everyone because a small majority of our population is allergic to nuts. So unless you are part of that 1% of the population with celiac’s disease, choosing to eat gluten free won’t inherently make you healthy or lose weight. And simply cutting out one sector of a balanced diet is by all definitions a fad diet.

The End of the Gluten Craze?

So now although the majority of the population has no problem with gluten, nearly 30% of our developed populations want to eat less gluten. Sales from gluten free products and labeling are estimated to hit $15 billion by 2016 and nearly 18% of adults now buy gluten-free that is an over 50% jump from 2013. However, since this new research has come out we have seen a slight turn in the tides. Even sources like Fitness Magazine, The Huffington Post, and ABC are coming out with news articles debunking the myths behind gluten. Dr. Oz is even jumping on this bandwagon in his latest interview with Seth Meyers where he calls Gluten Free a “scam”. 

So what are our takeaways from all of this…?

  • If you think you are insensitive to gluten, go visit your doctor. Don’t self diagnose. Celiacs disease is certainly an under diagnosed and serious condition that is meant to be taken serious.
  • If you don’t have celiacs, dig deeper. Don’t just cut gluten out of your diet. Your problem may not be with gluten but instead may be from FODMAPs.
  • Don’t just cut gluten out of your diet because someone told you it’s bad. Take some time to seriously sit down and research the specifics. Gluten free diets can cause you to become deficient in fiber and many other essential vitamins and minerals. Reducing FODMAPs versus gluten can be a much healthier and less restrictive alternative.

Celebrate Choice 

Bottom line is that no matter what… please don’t demonize something you don’t even know what it is. It takes 5 minutes on Google (using good, hard science my friends) to research these things. Let’s celebrate the diversity that is already abundant in our food system rather than constantly demonize how lacking it is. It is no secret that we are all passionate about the food we eat, what we put into our body, and how it is grown. Yes, even us farmers. 

In all honesty, only in an area where food is abundant, do we have the choice to pick gluten-free off the shelf. So many out there can’t say the same. This point really hit home for me when we visited Cambodia, Thailand, and Singapore this year. It really opened my eyes and gave me a firsthand look into how other people view food around the globe.. It forced me to think outside of our country and think on a more global scale. 

So thinking globally, let’s work together on issues and bridge the gap between consumer and farmer and scientist so that we can continue to ensure people in other places have that same choice too. I really hope that you take some time today to think about how fortunate we are to be living in a place where we have a choice to cut gluten out of our diets and that we have modern science to diagnose the fact that gluten may cause things like celiacs disease. I don’t have the answers, but I know I want to become part of the solution. Do you?

The first step is awareness. 


  1. Johnnie Scott
    May 20, 2014 / 2:31 pm

    Great post, Jenny. I had this conversation with some non Ag friends on Sunday.

    • May 21, 2014 / 10:40 am

      Thanks so much Johnnie!!

  2. May 20, 2014 / 3:11 pm

    Dr. Oz interviews a late night talk show comedian about a gluten-free diet? Good grief!

    Regardless of that little tidbit, love this article. Very well written. A lot of people think that gluten is the enemy when really they are just cashing in on a trench. Funny enough the gluten-free food is more processed and full of fat and sugar to make up for the lack of gluten (or something along those lines!).
    Sarah [NurseLovesFarmer.com] recently posted…We Can Change the World By Raising Our Babies RightMy Profile

    • May 21, 2014 / 10:39 am

      That is true! Taking gluten out of processed foods requires something else to go in there! And it must be a turn of the tides if Dr. Oz is jumping on the non-gluten free bandwagon! 😉

  3. May 20, 2014 / 4:25 pm

    Great post Jenny. There is so much misinformation out there on food trends. When I use to work for a soybean producer group we did some work with celiac’s disease education since soy is a gluten-free product. It was very interesting to talk to those with celiac’s and those that had self-diagnosed themselves…
    Val – Corn, Beans, Pigs and Kids recently posted…Wordless Wednesday – Enjoying TodayMy Profile

    • May 21, 2014 / 10:39 am

      Thank you so much Val! I cannot imagine self-diagnosing myself for anything else.. why this? I find this whole topic very intriguing and interesting for sure! Knowledge is power and through writing this, I even learned something new!

  4. May 21, 2014 / 7:44 am

    Nice article, Jenny! This is a topic I’d like to write about but I can never bring myself to do it. I think it’s harder to “preach to the choir” when you actually have Celiac’s. You are trying to cater to an audience like yourself and you’re doing a beautiful job! Personally, I try to avoid purchasing specific processed gluten free items. Those big gluten free displays you see at the grocery store full of bread, Little Debbie and Hostess like products, corn chips, etc…. yeah, I walk right on past those. The best thing that works for me is eating as naturally and clean gluten free items as possible. When it comes to pasta, yes, I do enjoy being able to buy gluten free pasta. I have however cut my pasta intake tremendously because I know I am not getting the nutrients I was getting from wheat pasta. Even though I have Celiac’s, I still LOVE wheat, it’s nutritional value and the availability our consumers have. It’s so unfortunate that I can’t have it anymore! You are right, gluten is not the enemy. Society is! People who avoid it for no reason other then they think it’s “bad” for them are crazy. Seriously. Crazy. And they are taking away products from people that really do need them. Thank you so much for writing this! 🙂
    Kelly Whiteman Snipes recently posted…Getting OlderMy Profile

    • May 21, 2014 / 10:38 am

      Thank you so much for that Kelly!! I appreciate it, especially coming from someone who has dealt with this issue firsthand! This was a post that has been on my radar for a long time… I just couldn’t find the right words. So I am glad I finally found them! 🙂

  5. Alice W.
    May 24, 2014 / 12:23 am

    A very good post jenny; glad you took the time to put your research and knowledge down on this post where others could benefit from it. Often times we shop for things “We Want” rather than for the things we need or for what might be good for us. Keep up the good posts and work and we will be sure to read them.

  6. Brian C.
    November 18, 2014 / 1:00 pm

    Thanks. It’s nice to get facts rather than hype. I think you mean hypersensitivity, where the immune system over reacts to a largely harmless substance, rather than insensitivity.

  7. Janet
    November 22, 2014 / 2:07 am

    Don’t you mean to say “sensitivity” to gluten where you’ve said “insensitivity”? I’m finding for myself that after years of high fiber eating I’m actually needing to eat more soluable fiber fiber items first before the heavy insoluable stuff. That’s been helping my digestion lately and I wonder if that’s the issue that some are having rather than a gluten reaction. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience.

  8. January 4, 2015 / 11:00 pm

    Wow. This post is so well done and just everything I want people to know about gluten free.

    I am extremely concerned about the gluten free craze and how it relates to eating disorders. Some are saying gluten free IS the new eating disorder.

    I heard about you through Sarah at Nurse Loves Farmer and my friend Chantal of Chantal Jura Nutrition. It’s SO, SO, SO great to meet other sensible, smart, science-based bloggers.

    You have a huge new fan!

    • January 7, 2015 / 4:40 pm

      Thank you SO much for this! I appreciate it!! And welcome!! 🙂