What is Gluten?

what-is-glutenGluten is a general name for specific proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley.  It is what gives bread dough elasticity and holds it together.

Gluten proteins are made up of two types of peptides, glutenin and prolamins.  It is the prolamins that trigger an autoimmune reaction in people with celiac disease.  They also trigger reactions in people with gluten intolerance.

The prolamins that create a problem for celiacs are gliadin (wheat), secalin (rye), and hordein (barley).  A small percentage of people with celiac disease also react to avenin, the prolamin found in oats.

The above definition of gluten is what people are talking about when they say they are on a gluten-free diet, or that they cannot eat gluten.

However,  gluten is found in other foods.  Rice and corn both have a form of gluten in them.  It is not a gluten that causes the reactions mentioned above, but some people do have individual allergies to those foods.

You might be wondering why wheat, rye, and barley are offensive and not other grains.  A plant taxonomy chart helps clarify it.


As you can see, wheat, rye, and barley are in the same tribe—triticeae.  Other grasses such as rice, corn, millet sorghum,and teff (all commonly used gluten-free grains), are in the same family, but different sub families.

Other foods such as buckwheat, quinoa, and amaranth, which are also commonly use in a gluten-free diet, are in a different subclass because they are dicots.  The toxic grains are monocots.

I think it is interesting to see that buckwheat is closely related to rhubarb and quinoa to spinach.

While most bakers probably love gluten for the wonderful effects it has on their edible creations, I consider it a poison.  As a person with celiac disease, gluten has the power to destroy my health, and I avoid it like the plague.

About Linda Etherton

Linda has been gluten free since 2000 when I was diagnosed with celiac disease which propelled me into the world of gluten-free cooking and baking. I am convinced that gluten-free food can and should be delicious, and I never apologize for serving it.
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  1. Love the chart, Linda! There’s one that’s even more detailed that I have been looking for for quite some time. And I consider your closing sentences the best part of this post. Agreed, and gluten is the poison of many, but so many still don’t know.

    Thanks for this one! Will share!

  2. Very nice chart! I was surprised to learn what are monocots and what are dicots.

  3. Thanks so much, Linda! Great little article :)

  4. Christine Robinett says:

    There is increasing cross-reactivity to the “other” grains. My very persistent DH on my scalp and neck would not stop until I eliminated ALL grass grains and legumes from my diet, personal care and household cleaning products. It now only flairs up if I’ve been to a grocery or bakery where I get airborn flour dust.

  5. Thanks for this great brief explanation, Linda! Good for sharing, which I will do.

  6. The fact that, gluten triggers other diseases in many people with celiac indicates that it is indeed a poison.

  7. Thank you for such a wonderful, informative article Linda. My husband was diagnosed with celiac disease last year and gluten truly can poison the body in so many ways. It is remarkable how the body begins to heal itself when gluten is eliminated from the diet.

  8. Thanks for the science – we see lots of recipes on the net, but rarely does someone spell it out so clearly from a plant based perspective.

  9. Linda, I love this chart. So many times I hear what is and is not closely related to wheat/gluten grains, etc. But it’s so much easier to grasp seeing it like this!

  10. amandeep singh says:

    This sucks and I can’t have any thing with gluten in it but I rather die

  11. gerri stratton says:

    Thank you for the simple and clear explanation! I’m cooking for diabetic missionaries this week and needed to know this..i’m told gluten is a no-no for diabetics.

  12. Kornhead says:

    Found out ta gluten free diet help in easing ezcema which I m suffering for the past 5 years. Now I hope to heal my leaky gut symptom. Tks Linda for the descriptions

  13. Sally Johnstone says:

    This is so good! Makes it really clear & easy to understand. I was diagnosed July last year & am still struggling sometimes to be sure of what I should & shouldn’t have… Thankyou ?

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