What is Gluten Free?

The following is a guest post from Linda.

You hear about another celebrity who has gone gluten free, or maybe even a friend. In fact, you hear the term “gluten-free” quite a bit and see it on food labels. What’s the big deal, and what is gluten free anyway?

what is gluten free

Gluten free refers to a diet that is free of gluten. But you probably knew that. What is gluten? The simple answer is that it is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Oats are often included in that list because mainstream oats are contaminated with gluten.

The next question is why do people eat a gluten-free diet and is it just a fad? There are actually a variety of reasons for eating gluten free.

1. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that is triggered by gluten. When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, their body attacks the lining of the small intestine which leads to malabsorption and a variety of symptoms.

A gluten-free diet is the only way to treat celiac disease. It is important that people with the disease strictly follow the diet. Even small amounts of gluten from cross contamination of processed foods can cause an autoimmune reaction.

The number of people in the United States that are estimated to have celiac disease is 1 in 133. Many of those are still undiagnosed, but more and more are finding the answer to their health problems every day. That is part of the reason the gluten-free diet is becoming more popular.

2. There is a growing number of people who have gluten sensitivity. In many ways they react to gluten with the same symptoms as people with celiac disease, but they test negative for the disease.

3. Many parents are finding that children with autism spectrum disorders improve dramatically on a gluten and casein (milk protein) free diet.

4. With all the publicity about gluten free, some people think it’s a weight loss diet. It isn’t. In fact, gluten-free substitutes usually contain more calories. However, some people do find that they have a gluten addiction and cutting it out can help them to lose weight.

Overall, there are a variety of reasons why people go gluten free. For most it is a necessity for healthy living, for a few it is a fad. What about you? Do you eat gluten free?

Linda EthertonLinda Etherton was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2000.  She blogs about recipes and the gluten free diet at The Gluten-Free Homemaker.  Linda believes that gluten free can and should be delicious and never apologizes for serving gluten-free food. Linda is also an editor here at The Happy Housewife.


  1. Linda, my son tested positive to allergies to wheat, dairy, egg whites and soy a few years ago. He has shown so much improvement in his health, behavior, and just is an overall happier kid. He actually hasn’t been tested for Celiac, but I do wonder if he has it. Either way, I know he does better with no gluten and that is the most important thing at this point. I need to research whether the blood test requires he consume gluten or if it being gluten-free has no bearing on testing either positive or negative for Celiac. Do you know, Linda?

    • Hi Jackie. Yes, celiac tests do require that the person is consuming gluten. The blood test looks for antibodies which go away after going gluten-free. The intestinal biopsy looks for damage which heals after going gf. So the tests won’t be accurate at this point. And sometimes they are not accurate anyway!

  2. We are gluten free, lactose free, soy free, commercial flavorings and preservatives free (yes, even natural ones…but at home I use vanilla and fresh flavors like fresh lemon juice, herbs and spices, salt and pepper, etc), artificial colors free, yeast free…all for my oldest son and less so for his two little brothers. My oldest was dxed with ADD, inattentive type, dyslexia, classic autism, mild and sensory problems three years ago. This diet, along with careful supplementation of magnesium, B vitamins and support for his thyroid, plus probiotics from fermented foods like pickles and sauerkraut, has resulted in a decrease in the severity of his ASD to PDD-NOS and a very, very mild form of that, plus major improvements in his social skills (he actually talks to friends and family now, instead of hiding from them in his room, looking at books), his gross motor skills, his academics, not to mention the improvement in his gut health. Eating real, whole foods everyday has made us all happier and healthier overall and now none of my boys have the problems with their tummies they had pre-diagnosis. It has actually been a blessing…I am so glad I am aware now of food quality, the value of organics, what those huge words on the labels of processed foods mean for the health of my kids…nothing good, I assure you. Yay for special diets!! lol

    • Chrissy, I have heard many people (including myself) say that they eat a healthier diet after going gluten free simply because they are more aware of what is in their food. I’m glad to hear that you have been able to help your children through diet, and that everyone is feeling healthier!

  3. One of my best friends has celiac, so any time we entertain with her family (or lately bringing meals to her since the birth of her child), I’m searching for GF recipes…and she has a daughter who can’t eat dairy. I’m more than happy to make meals intentionally geared toward them, but that’s usually when I encounter a mental block and can’t come up with anything! The things I come across online are often more involved (and geared toward families like Chrissy’s (see previous comment)) rather than regular recipes that just happen to not have dairy or gluten-related items. Any time you can post GF and dairy free recipes or point to good GF/DF websites, it’s truly appreciated! Thanks for bringing more attention to this issue!

    • Erin, my blog is gluten-free and as of the fall of 2010 I have also been dairy free. That means the recipes on my site are somewhat mixed (some having dairy), but there are plenty of dinner ideas you can find there. Gluten-free pasta can be found at many regular grocery stores in the health food isle. I recommend Tinkyada brand. You could make something like this Italian Sausage and Pasta. Or how about meatloaf and potatoes? If you want more ideas, feel free to send me an email. Linda (at) glutenfreehomemaker (dot) com.

  4. Chrissy says:

    Yeah, plain gluten free/dairy free is easy. Mediterranean food, Indian food and Asian food have a TON of recipes that are naturally both. Asian food in particular, since they consume almost zero dairy. Regular soy sauce has wheat but you can get a bottle San-J Tamari, which is gluten free, to use in its place…very yummy. Vinegars are gf, oils are gf, higher quality single spices are gf, potatoes, rice, quinoa, risotto rice, all veggies/fresh meats/fruits/eggs. There is a heck of a lot of food to make there. A fave with our friends is marinated grilled flank steak, roasted potatoes and steamed green beans….american as it gets and easy too.

  5. Mary Snow says:

    I have had a bout of iscemic colitis. It’s when the colon has a lack of blood flow & it expells quickly & painfully. The GI dr said that gluten free would help to avoid future flare ups b/c gluten is difficult to digest.

    One other issue with GF is in medicines & vitamin/mineral supplements – evidently it has to do with the fillers used in forming the pills. This is something I would have never thought of to check out b4 taking.

    • Mary, I hope a gluten-free diet helps you. The doctor is right. Gluten is hard to digest. Actually I’ve heard that it is not digested and that’s why many people say that gf is good for anyone. Thankfully, it is rare for gluten to show up in prescription medications. You can check glutenfreedrugs.com to find gf meds. It is more common in vitamins, but many companies now label their vitamins as gf.

  6. thank you Linda!

  7. Hi Linda,

    I have noticed that myself and my almost 2 year old daughter just are not “well”. We eat the SAD (standard american diet) and I have considered going gluten free. I have headaches all the time and feel sluggish and achey a lot. My poor little girl has mood swings all the time. I really feel it has a lot to do with how we are eating in general. I also have a 6m old who seems to have an incredibly sensitive stomach. Do you think going Gluten free MIGHT help with some of these things?

    • Hi Ashley. Yes, going gluten-free might help. All of the things you described COULD be caused by gluten. But it would be a good idea to be tested for celiac disease before going gf. If you or your daughter do have it, it’s good to know that, because then the gluten free diet is a necessity and cheating is a very bad idea. It’s always a good idea to see a doctor first anyway. They don’t always have the answer, especially when the answer is diet related, but sometimes there are other issues that a doctor will catch.

  8. Gilbert says:

    Is there anyway gluten free diets can help people with type 2 diabetes?

  9. We’re attempting gluten free as a family due suspected ADHD in my wife and some of my children. It’s going to be a long 3 month test to see if it improves her focus and lessens some of the other symptoms.

    If we lose weight in the process (we don’t really buy commercially produced gluten free foods, we make them ourselves), then all the better.

  10. Hi.
    I have just been told to go 100% gluten free to see if it helps my Graves disease. I am finding people don’t respect that if you don;t have celiacs then why would you do that. I also have gained a bit of weight and I think I am trying to over componsate with gf crackres and chips.
    I feel loike I am cravinf food all the time this past week. Any suggestions to get past this craving

    • Sue, I’m sorry I didn’t see your comment earlier. You’re right that a lot of people don’t respect your decision to go gluten free for reasons other than celiac disease, but it can help other autoimmune diseases. Gluten-free foods often contain more calories than their counterparts so weight gain is not uncommon. I’m guessing that you’re through the cravings by now. Feel free to visit my blog at GlutenFreeHomemaker.com or send me an email if you have questions (GlutenFreeHomemaker at gmail dot com).

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