Gluten has become a popular word lately. The product is “gluten-free”, or “I’m on a gluten-free diet” are some common uses. So, what is gluten and what’s the big deal? Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. The protein breaks down into smaller substances known as epitopes. Any of these epitopes may cause a reaction and the reactions may affect different systems of the body such as the gastrointestinal, nervous, or immune system to name a few. There are 3 main types of problems known, all with a similar treatment. Avoid gluten (or in one case, wheat)! Let’s break it down into the different types: Wheat allergy: The body reacts similarly with as with any other type of allergy such as peanuts or pet dander. An immune response triggers histamine release producing a wide variety of symptoms ranging from hives to stomach pain to anaphylaxis. It is the wheat, though, not the gluten that is the culprit here. Celiac disease: This is an autoimmune disease, detectable with a blood test, in which gluten triggers the body to react with antibodies that eventually wear down the hair-like villi lining the intestines. These villi are what help to absorb nutrients from food we eat. When the villi are destroyed, we can no longer get the nutrients our bodies need. This can lead to malnutrition, digestive problems, and overall poor health. People with Celiac disease have to be on a gluten-free diet and will notice if they eat even the slightest bit of gluten. Gluten sensitivity: This is very similar to Celiac disease but people with this problem do not have the damage to the intestinal walls. Gluten sensitivity is not well understood and hard to diagnose because the only way to diagnose this condition is by going on a gluten-free diet and seeing any kind of results such as decreased joint pain, improved digestion, and the list goes on. This is not detectable with a blood test and often times people don’t even know how their bodies react when gluten is ingested. When going on a gluten-free diet, one of the biggest pitfalls is the hidden gluten within foods. Some examples of foods that seem gluten-free but may not be include soy sauce, artificial food colors, modified food starch, emulsifiers, and malt extract/flavor. Fortunately because of the recent awareness of gluten problems, more and more foods are being labeled to make it clear whether or not they include wheat or gluten. Rice and corn are 2 of the most popular grains that is gluten-free. Below are a few links for more information about gluten and gluten-free foods.