Gluten and Grains: The Whole Story

Nicole Schillinger, Weavers Way Neighborhood Nutrition Team

THIS MONTH: Gluten & Grains

What is gluten? What is “whole” grain? Learn more about the symptoms and prevalence of wheat sensitivity.

COMING UP IN JUNE: Eating with the Seasons

Eating local and seasonal foods is good for the planet and can be more healthful, too. 

It’s very common these days to hear someone say they’re staying away from gluten in their diet. But what IS gluten? Is it actually bad for you? Which grains contain gluten and which don’t? So many questions! Luckily, the Weavers Way Neighborhood Nutrition Team is here to help. In the month of May, the Team is focusing on nutrition education programming all about gluten and grains. 

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, bulgur, couscous, malt and triticale. Other grains, such as amaranth, buckwheat, rice, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff, don’t contain the gluten protein. 

Gluten is valuable in cooking because it helps texture and shape foods by creating elasticity, and many gluten-containing grains have been bred to boost the level of gluten even higher.

For some people, gluten is a problem. About 1-2 percent of the U.S. population has celiac disease, an autoimmune problem in which even small amounts of gluten trigger changes in the small intestine. Celiac is diagnosed with an endoscopy or intestinal biopsy. Other people who react to gluten have what’s known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, with symptoms ranging from gastrointestinal distress to thyroid, joint and skin problems. 

So, should you eat gluten, or stay away from it? If you have celiac, the answer is easy — no. Otherwise, it depends — not everyone responds the same way! If you are curious about your own sensitivity to gluten, try cutting it out for a few weeks, and see how you feel. Every body is different!

When you do choose grains in your diet, opt for the whole grain, which contains the bran, the germ and the endosperm, which keep you feeling full because they take longer to digest. For example, try brown basmati rice vs. white basmati rice.

If you tolerate gluten, try some ancient grains, like einkorn wheat. Einkorn is recognized as the first wheat cultivated by humans, and its natural gluten content is low. Or try kamut, another ancient wheat strain with a high protein content.

With both gluten and non-gluten grains, preparation is key. Ancient cultures have been preparing grains the right way forever. Native Americans soaked their rice and lentils. In most Asian cuisines, rice is fermented before use. Soaking grains is a beneficial process that increases nutrition while removing hard-to-digest compounds. Sprouted grains contain eight times more Vitamin A, B and C than non-sprouted!

Curious to learn more, and to sample some of the gluten-free and whole-grain products at the Co-op? Join the Nutrition Team at one of our May programs. Visit the Online Event Calendar at for more info.

Nicole Schillinger is a private practice dietitian at Functional Health Center LLC in Ambler and a certified personal trainer. Contact her at