Gluten. Maybe you’ve heard of that misunderstood little protein with a bad-boy reputation. Maybe you’re a little confused as to why he’s still on his fifteen minutes of fame.


Gluten is what makes your pizza dough chewy, your pastries puffy, and processed foods shelf-stable. It binds bread, thickens sauce, and ties medicine like acetaminophen and vitamin supplements together. It’s found in wheat, barley, rye, and a whole host of other places. And it’s also a difficult protein to digest – it can damage the small intestines of those with celiac disease and the stomach stability, energy, and mood of gluten-sensitive people.


Sure, you could live a pretty healthy life eating foods with gluten if you have the tolerance for it. But most people can also reap tons of healthy benefits by limiting their gluten intake in the right way. That’s because the diet emphasizes meats, fruits, and veggies rather than crackers, bread, and pasta (whose carbs can spike blood sugar and drive cravings). It can – by default – cancel out a lot of processed and fried foods you shouldn’t be eating, anyways. (Yes, we’re looking at you, beer-battered, gravy-slathered fried chicken.) And whether directly or indirectly, it can improve cholesterol problems, cardiac health, and even your weight. (Goodbye, gluten-ous maximus.) It’s all about choosing whole, fresh, and naturally gluten-free foods rather than all that refined-sugar fare.


Now, common belief holds that gluten is a straight-up-grain sort of fellow, but it can lurk in more uncommon places. This list is by no means comprehensive, but here’s a start:


Common: Wheat, barley, rye, bread, crackers, pastries and cakes, couscous, pasta, pretzels, pizza, orzo, cereal, deep-fried or battered foods.


Uncommon: Soy sauce, salad dressings, barley malt (in coffee syrups, sweeteners), spice mixes (dried herbs and other single-ingredient spices are fine), licorice and candy, pickles, hot dogs and processed cold cuts, ramen, seasoned potato chips, imitation seafood, imitation meats, vitamin supplements.


Happily Gluten-Free (and all-natural): Dairy without any add-ins (milk, plain greek yogurt, butter), fresh meats, fish, beans, legumes, eggs, all vegetables and fruits, quinoa, buckwheat, flax, chia, amaranth, teff, nuts, rice, potatoes, coffee (yay), wine (yay), vodka. Oh. And Freshly.