What Is Gluten-Free?

What Is This Gluten Stuff Anyway?!

Whenever I visit a yoga studio, I’m inundated with talk about gluten. I feel like the stuff never existed, and suddenly a few years ago, store shelves had to be redesigned to make room for heavy breads and bland cookies. The gluten conversation is as fervent as the vegan/omnivore debate among yogis, so as a gluten-noob myself, I decided to take a look at the wonky details of this Wonka-sounding substance…

I’m a Glutton for Gluten

As a die-hard omnivore, I have an understanding of my dietary choices. I’ve made peace with the many thousands of farm animals I’ve devoured on my journey, and I offer no apologies for indulging in the seared flesh of a once-living creature. When the discussion turned to the pros and cons of gluten, however, I had no rebuttal as to why I consume it – I didn’t even know I was, and I felt like I was being conned.

I asked around the grocery store, and the general consensus was that gluten is what gives dough its elasticity, which totally explains why the baked goods had such a weird texture. Having made bread before, I assumed yeast was what made it chewy, but it turns out I was wrong. Ravenous to know more about gluten, I made a note to research the topic further when I got home and was able to better digest the information.

Gluten Isn’t Just Found in Bread

In researching the topic online, I discovered it’s not just found in bread; a variety of food and cosmetic products contain gluten. It’s the stuff they add to imitation meats and is used in beer, soy sauce, ice cream, and ketchup, due to its usage as a stabilizing agent. It’s also added to certain pet foods to increase protein content.

It turns out gluten really is a serious business, and even though it only serves to assist a small minority of people with wheat allergies, the gluten-free market seems to be mimicking the sugar-free market that accompanied the rise of diabetes at the turn of the century. One can only wonder what type of chemical gluten alternatives big business will invent to pull back market share.

Is Gluten-Free the Way to Be?

If you’re one of the 1% of people who has celiac disease, then going gluten-free is a legitimate health choice you should make. Everyone else is basically wearing Kabbalah bracelets because Madonna’s doing it. If you see something shiny in the supermarket and want to try it out, by all means, taste it – that’s what life is all about. Telling everyone you’re doing it because of the magical healing properties is making a fool of yourself.

A lesson every yogi needs to learn, in order to spread the benefits of their practice as far as possible, is that while you may understand the emotional, mental, and physical healing benefits of vinyasas, Ayurveda, and a mantra, it looks strange to people on the outside. Hawking acai berries and raw, doughy, unleavened bread as miracle healing cures isn’t helping anyone relate to you so they can focus on what’s really important: themselves.

The Gluten Commandments

There are some decent recipes made without gluten, and they can be added into your diet in moderation much like vegetarian dishes and meat. There’s no need to avoid gluten, however, unless you’re in the 1% of people who have an actual medical need. Otherwise, consider that section of the grocery store the same way you do parking in a handicapped spot – you get one freebie to try it out. After that, you’re that friend that visits London over the summer and returns with a British accent.

Penny Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower, freelance consultant, and troll. He’s a frequent contributor to The Street, Huffington Post, Cannabis Now, and Fast Company.


Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer.

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