“Gluten in grains” EXPLAINED…or, Can you really find gluten in gluten-free flours?

As promised today on Instagram, I’d like to discuss the topic of gluten in grains a bit better. And for those of you who don’t have Instagram, here is a quick recap:

Gluten content in grains seems to be a messy subject. ⁠In fact, many people don’t even understand what gluten really is: some say it is synonymous with grain; others say it is a carb in grain that makes you gain weight; while still others claim that gluten is not a grain itself, but is a “thing” in grain that makes everyone sick...and so on, and so forth...But the other day, I got into a vigorous debate with someone who claimed that: "gluten is a pro-inflammatory protein present in all grains and therefore, people (especially those with celiac disease) should avoid all grains, including so-called ‘gluten-free’ rice and corn…”.⁠

Of course, as you may have guessed, the message was coming from a person who happened to be an advocate for grain-free diet. More on this later, but I'd like to point out that there’s little to no research suggesting that avoidance of all grains can be beneficial; however, there IS a real risk of getting inadequate nutrition! ⁠

Since the presence/absence of gluten in corn happened to be a prominent part of our debate, I prepared for you a few useful remarks below: ⁠

Yes! The term "gluten" indeed is confusing, even for the food industry and researchers. For example, food engineer Kent Rausch (University of Illinois) says, "It’s ironic that corn protein is a great source of gluten-free protein, but everything in the milling process has the term ‘gluten’ attached to it." So how did this happen? ⁠Well, here it is:

Grains have a part called endosperm, which contains starch and proteins, providing the nutrients for the growing plant embryo. Proteins found here are: 1) prolamins, 2) glutelins, 3) albumins and 4) globulins. I know, these are crazy-sounding words, and unless you are nerdy like me and love food chemistry, they won’t make you excited…But that’s ok! The main thing you need to know here is that technically speaking, when prolamins combine with glutelins they form a “gluten”. So when food scientists sometimes talk about "gluten", they simply refer to this mixture of prolamins and glutelins in any grain. However, that is NOT “the gluten” that health care professionals and nutrition scientists are talking about. When the latter say “gluten”, they mean only those prolamins and glutelins that come from wheat, rye and barley, because they are different and they are the ones that people with celiac and gluten sensitivity react to.

The same answer can be given to people who ask: “Do oats contain gluten?” They do, in the sense that they have prolamins and glutelins; but they don’t have “the gluten” that is triggering symptoms in celiac disease and that’s why we call them “gluten-free” (assuming no cross-contamination happened, of course).

So yes, my opponent was right, that all grains have “gluten”, but he was wrong with his ultimate conclusion. Because that is not “THE GLUTEN” that we need to worry about.

Of course, some people may react to “gluten-free” grains, but we cannot draw any big conclusion based on this without further studies. Moreso, there are so many individual allergies, intolerances and sensitivities that can involve various components of the food besides gluten.

As such, and based on a few decades of extensive research, only “gluten” from certain grains has shown to be responsible for the health concerns in people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity; this is “the gluten” that we usually talk about. And so, when we say that corn, rice and other grains are “gluten-free”, we simply mean they are free of that specific “the gluten”. That is it. No conspiracy or misinformation, unlike what my opponent thought.

I really hope this post helped to clarify the confusion and now you know why some people say that “gluten-free” grains have gluten and why it is still ok to eat them on a gluten-free diet!

As always, if you have any questions or ideas for further posts, DM me on Instagram @smartbitesolutions or send me an email!

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Love you all! Til next!


For those who are interested in further details:

· Type of prolamine in wheat = gliadin

· Type of prolamine in barley = hordein

· Type of prolamine in rye = secalin

· Type of prolamine in corn = zein

· Type of prolamine in oats = avenin

· Type of glutelin in wheat = glutenin

· Type of glutelin barley = hordenin

· Type of glutelin in rye = secalinin

· Type of glutelin in corn = zeanin

· Type of glutelin in oats = avenalin

Example: Gliadin + glutenin = “gluten”