What Foods Contain Gluten?

Gluten can cause problems in individuals with certain pathologies, such as celiac disease. Discover what foods contain gluten.
What Foods Contain Gluten?
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 16 May, 2023

One of the most recent dietary fads is to remove gluten from the diet. However, many people are unaware of what this substance is and what its implications are within the human body. In the following article, we’ll tell you all about this gluten, and we’ll also tell you which foods contain this protein.

We must emphasize that a healthy diet must be characterized by its variety. In general terms, it’s not a good idea to restrict groups of foods or nutrients unless prescribed by a specialist for some pathological situation.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in some cereals, especially wheat and barley. It’s also possible to find homologs of it in oats under the name of avenin. It’s a nutrient of low biological value and, therefore, has limited essential amino acids and a low level of digestibility.

Keep in mind that essential amino acids are those that can’t be manufactured by the human body, so it’s important to include them in the diet. Some of them are very important, as they have the ability to influence muscle repair. This is the case of leucine, according to scientific studies.

At the same time, gluten is responsible for providing gumminess and texture to all doughs and preparations made with wheat flour. Therefore, without said nutrient, the nutritional characteristics of the final products would be affected.

For this reason, we can affirm that gluten stands out more for its power when it comes to influencing the elasticity of bakery foods than for its influence at the dietary level. However, there are certain individuals who have problems digesting this substance, as stated in a study published in BMC.

Is gluten bad for you?

In recent years, a trend among health professionals has appeared that affirms that it’s good to remove gluten from the diet at a general level, as it has inflammatory properties. The truth is that there’s no scientific evidence in this regard.

What does happen is that, by avoiding this nutrient, a lot of sweet and ultra-processed foods end up being eliminated. This leads to an improvement in the functioning of the body. In fact, there’s evidence that avoiding refined industrial products has a positive impact on health.

A woman rejects bread with gluten.
The rejection of gluten is supported when there are underlying diseases, such as celiac disease.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body’s defense system to react against the protein, as it sees it as a threat to the human body.

It’s a chronic and incurable process that generates digestive problems every time gluten is included in the diet. It usually appears with diarrhea, colic, gas, and abdominal pain. In these cases, the only solution is to restrict all products that contain gluten. Special attention must also be paid to cross-contamination.

Wheat allergy

Another frequent problem that causes the need to avoid eating foods with gluten is wheat allergy. It’s also an autoimmune problem, although in this case, it can develop at almost any time in life, with it appearing more frequently during childhood or adolescence.

There are different degrees of allergy. Some allow the intake of small amounts of protein without noticeable symptoms. Others, however, can generate the appearance of anaphylactic shock. This puts life at risk, as confirmed by research published in the journal Vnitrni Lekarstvi.

Wheat intolerance

This situation is generated by the malabsorption of the protein or by an inability of the intestine to metabolize it. It’s a condition that can develop progressively throughout life or appear spontaneously.

It’s conditioned by the absence of enzymes necessary to dissociate this protein, which generates inefficiencies at the digestive level. It can occur with different levels of severity.

In less serious cases, it can cause an increase in gases. Other times, it has been shown to cause diarrhea and even increased inflammation. However, a blood test is necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

Is it appropriate to remove gluten from the diet?

Unless there’s a professional diagnosis of celiac disease, wheat allergy, or gluten intolerance, it’s not advisable to avoid the consumption of said protein. In fact, chronically restricting the intake of the substance can increase the risk of developing intolerance later.

It’s important to remember that the human body is an efficient machine that always tends to save energy. In this case, if it detects that gluten isn’t being ingested systematically, it loses the ability to synthesize the enzymes that break it down, as it understands that they’re not necessary.

It must be taken into account that there are no investigations with large population samples that conclude that the consumption of gluten in healthy subjects has negative consequences for health. In fact, it has been shown that gluten-free products may contain a greater amount of sugars and trans fats.

Unless there’s a diagnosis and a professional recommendation, avoiding the consumption of foods that contain gluten isn’t recommended as a general rule.

What foods contain gluten?

It’s important to know the foods that are likely to contain gluten in their composition, in order to remove them from the diet if there’s any disease that requires doing so. Gluten is found in grains, especially wheat, barley, rye, spelt, oats, and kamut.

It should be noted that the products made with their flours also contain gluten in their composition. In this regard, it’s necessary to avoid bakery products, sweets, and pasta. As a source of carbohydrates, tubers and rice can be consumed, as well as legumes.

However, it’s possible to find many industrial foods that contain a gluten-free seal. This indicates that the ingredients that compose them have been industrially treated to eliminate the protein from their composition or that they’re made from foods that don’t have this nutrient.

Along the same lines, brands are also required to present an allergen declaration, where the most frequent antigens that can be found in the product are identified. This may indicate that the food contains traces of wheat, gluten, or shellfish, for example.

Gluten-free bread.
There are flour alternatives that can be used for gluten-free bakery products.

How to replace gluten in preparations?

People who can’t consume gluten find themselves in need of substituting certain ingredients when preparing culinary dishes. Most opt for grains that are certified as gluten-free, however, it’s also possible to find some foods that ensure an adequate supply of carbohydrates without the presence of said protein.

In this regard, rice, millet, quinoa, potato, sweet potato, corn, cassava, and buckwheat can be incorporated. Legumes are also allowed and, with their flour, you can make certain desserts or doughs to eat as a snack. You’ll get results very similar to those offered by wheat flour.

Gluten is a demonized protein

As you’ve seen, in healthy people, there’s no reason supported by science to avoid the consumption of gluten. There’s no evidence that this protein is capable of promoting inflammatory processes in the body.

On the other hand, we’re not talking about a beneficial nutrient either. It has several limiting amino acids and its digestibility isn’t high, so it can’t be used as a substitute for food of animal origin.

Despite everything, there are pathological situations that require limiting the presence of said nutrient in the diet, as in these cases, it would be harmful. For this reason, we must bear in mind the foods that we’ve mentioned that contain gluten, as well as those that are free of said protein. For more questions, consult a nutrition professional.

  • Yoshimura Y., Bise T., Shimazu S., Tanoue M., et al., Effects of a leucine enriched amino acid supplement on muscle mass, muslce stregth, and physical function in post stroke patients with sarcopenia: a randomized controlled trial. Nutrition,2019. 58: 1-6.
  • Caio G., Volta U., Sapone A., Leffler DA., Giorgio R., et al., Celiac disease: a comprehensive current review. BMC Med, 2019.
  • Mendoça RD., Pimenta AM., Gea A., Fuente Arrillaga C., et al., Ultraprocessed food consumption and risk of overweight and obesity: the University of Navarra Follow up (SUN) cohort study. Am J Clin Nutr, 2016. 104 (5): 1433-1440.
  • Krcmova I., Novosad J., Anaphylactic symptoms and anaphylactic shock. Vnitr Lek, 2019. 65 (2): 149-156.
  • Balakireva AV., Zamyatnin AA., Properties of gluten intolerance: gluten structure, evolution, pathogenicity and detoxification capabilities. Nutrients, 2016. 8 (10): 644.
  • Melini V., Melini F., Gluten free diet: gaps and needs for a healthier diet. Nutrients, 2019. 11 (1): 170.

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