What’s the Big Deal About Gluten?

Several years ago people started talking about removing gluten from their diet. There was a lot of talk about it being the next great fad diet. Many made fun of it. No one needs to avoid gluten unless you're diagnosed celiac, right?  

Maybe. Maybe not. Read on and let's dissect this beast.  

If you're not eating gluten, it's important to know what it is first...

What is Gluten?

Gluten literally means glue. It's a protein found in some grains. Gluten provides these products with elasticity and thickness (picture a giant dough ball before it becomes pizza crust....mmmm pizza). Gluten can be found in wheat, barley, and rye.

It's not just breads you need to watch out for. Gluten is found in other foods and beverages! For example, beer, cereals, pastas, breads, salad dressings, and more. Oats can be grown in the same fields as gluten grains, which means you have to look for certified gluten-free oats. 

Gluten Sensitivity or Intolerance

When a celiac patient eats gluten, their digestive tract becomes inflamed. This causes bowel distress, nutrient malabsorption, joint pain, fatigue, and just an overall feeling of yuck.  

Some celiac patients require 18 months to 2 years before their digestive tract heals and they begin to feel normal again after consuming gluten. This is a serious concern and should be treated just as seriously as a nut allergy or any other food allergy. Celiac patients have a hard time eating out as the kitchen staff would need to have been trained in proper food allergy protocols.  

Even though some avoid gluten and really don't know why, there may be good reason to avoid it, even if you don't have celiac disease. There's something called Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS).

Until recently, many believed this was something those darned hippies made up as the next cool thing. New studies estimate that approximately 30% of the population has NCGS. Celiac afflicts approximately 1% of the population. It's a bit silly to be calling it a fad at this my humble opinion.  

And, quite honestly, some people just feel better without gluten in their life. Is it because they have a NCGS? Or are they carb sensitive and removing a large amount of carbs makes them feel better? We'll never know. Because...


There is no definitive test at this time for NCGS. It's really a diagnosis of exclusion. Individuals with NCGS will present with the same issues as a celiac patient, but less severe. 

Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance

Symptoms will vary from person to person. Just because your friend has bloat and you don't, doesn't mean you're in the clear.

Here are a few common symptoms of having a gluten intolerance or sensitivity:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Eczema
  • Joint pain
  • Headache/Migraines
  • Abdominal pain

I can think of several different illnesses these symptoms relate to as well. It's not so cut and dry. To read more on food sensitivities and leaky gut, check out this blog here

The best way to determine whether you are one of the 30% is to simply remove gluten from your diet. If you have NCGS, you will know in a matter of 5 to 7 days when your symptoms begin to improve and you begin to feel better.  

The moral of the story kids...lets not mock everything we haven't heard of or don't entirely understand.  In the comments, tell me your struggles with gluten. 

Updated 4/29/2019.


Cruchet, S., Lucero, Y., & Cornejo, V. (2016). Truths, myths and needs of special diets: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and vegetarianism. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 68(1), 43-50. doi:10.1159/000445393

MOCAN, O., & DUMITRAŞCU, D. L. (2016). The broad spectrum of celiac     disease and gluten sensitive enteropathy.

Clujul Medical, 89(3), 335–342. 

Sunny Brigham, MS, CNS

I'm Sunny! I'm a board-certified clinical nutritionist with an MS in Clinical Nutrition. I help individuals reduce fatigue, eliminate bloat, and lose weight by healing the digestive tract and balancing hormones. I provide individual and group nutrition consultations nationwide. Grab my metabolism boosting guide!

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