Gluten-Free Diet: What’s In, What’s Out

Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, but it’s also found in foods like ice cream and ketchup. Gluten-free diets are typically followed by people suffering from a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, a condition that causes a negative reaction to gluten and results in damage to the intestines. This damage makes it difficult for the body to absorb necessary nutrients and leads to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Basket and bowls of differenty types of pasta.

Gluten-free diets have become part of the weight loss fad. However, a gluten-free diet isn’t necessarily healthier and often leads to weight gain. Many gluten-free products are high in processed carbs and sugar. A person not dealing with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease would be better off shopping for a variety of high-fiber carbs, lean proteins, colorful fruits and veggies, and healthy fats. One hundred percent whole-wheat barley, wheat, and rye are also packed with fiber, which can help lower cholesterol and improve digestive health.

Pros of Eliminating Gluten

  • If you have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, you may have inflammation or damage to the intestinal tract.
  •  Eating gluten free can help reverse this damage and inflammation.
  • Encourages label reading and more awareness of food.
  • Leads to a healthier diet filled with less processed foods.
  • Introduces higher quality grains, like quinoa, into your diet.

Couple celebrating with dinner and wine.

When Dining Out, Talk It Out :One of the biggest challenges in maintaining a gluten-free diet is decoding a restaurant menu. Don’t be shy. Talk with your server or the chef and explain your dietary needs — they’re there to satisfy you.

Cons of Eliminating Gluten

  • Reduced carbohydrate intake due to lack of education on nutrients (not all carbs have gluten)
  • Lack of fiber from traditional sources can lead to digestive issues
  • Possible weight gain from eating gluten-free products, which often contain higher levels of fat and sugar
  • Possible weight gain as the intestinal track recovers and begins to absorb nutrients properly
  • Possible weight loss and consumption of a nutrient deficient diet from eliminating too many foods for fear of a negative reaction

Bottom line: If you think you have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, see your naturopath or doctor. Don’t go on a gluten-free diet without checking with them first. Going gluten-free and then getting checked by your doctor can affect the results of the blood test used to diagnose celiac disease.

Assortment of fresh bread, rolls, buns and donuts

Say Bye-Bye to Bread…Mostly: Perhaps the most difficult step in a gluten-free diet is bidding farewell to bread as you know it — that includes white, wheat, marble, and rye. Also off limits are bagels, muffins, croissants, hamburger buns, scones — you get the idea. Yes, even pizza. But don’t despair. There are alternatives.

A person with celiac disease (CD) cannot eat food that contains gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and in most oats (unless specifically labeled gluten-free).

CD is NOT an allergy. It is an autoimmune disorder, like type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s, rheumatoid arthritis, and a host of others. Automimmune disorders are the result of an overactive immune system which mistakes some part of the body as a pathogen and attacks it.

In CD, when gluten is ingested, the body attacks the wall of the small intestine and destroy’s the body’s ability to process food and absorb nutrients. There is also a recognized form of celiac disease that attacks the skin, called dermatitis herpetiformis (DH). Celiac may also affect the liver, thyroid and nervous system in some people, but to what degree scientists are still uncertain.

When a person with CD stops ingesting gluten, the body (usually) gradually stops attacking itself and the intestine/skin is able to heal. Any re-introduction of gluten starts the autoimmune process back up again, whether or not any other symptoms appear. The amount of gluten required to kick off the autoimmune response has been measured in the ‘parts per million’, so it is very tiny.

Variety of gluten-free products in grocery basketYou Have Gluten-Free Bread Choices : Many health foods stores and some major supermarkets now carry gluten-free products, including an assortment of breads. These are often made with rice or potato flour instead of wheat products. Just check the label to make sure it says “100% gluten-free.”

Gluten-free diet:

A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes the protein gluten. Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye).

A gluten-free diet is used to treat celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that can appear at any age and is caused by an intolerance to gluten. Gluten causes inflammation in the small intestines of people with celiac disease. Eating a gluten-free diet helps people with celiac disease control their signs and symptoms and prevent complications.

Initially, following a gluten-free diet may be frustrating. But with time, patience and creativity, you’ll find there are many foods that you already eat that are gluten-free and you will find substitutes for gluten-containing foods that you can enjoy.

Diet-conscious shopper reading product label Gluten ‘Red Flags’ : People on a gluten-free diet need a sharp eye for labels. Some ingredient red flags are obvious, like wheat, wheat gluten, barley, or rye. But some foods have “stealth” gluten. Two terms to watch for are malt (which is made from barley) and hydrolyzed vegetable protein (it often contains wheat). And while oats do not contain gluten, they may also increase symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea.

Diet details

Switching to a gluten-free diet is a big change and, like anything new, it takes some getting used to. You may initially feel deprived by the diet’s restrictions. However, try to stay positive and focus on all the foods you can eat. You may also be pleasantly surprised to realize how many gluten-free products , such as bread and pasta, are now available. Many specialty grocery stores sell gluten-free foods. If you can’t find them in your area, check with a celiac support group or go online.

If you’re just starting with a gluten-free diet, it’s a good idea to consult a dietitian who can answer your questions and offer advice about how to avoid gluten while still eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Allowed foods
Many healthy and delicious foods are naturally gluten-free:

  • Beans, seeds, nuts in their natural, unprocessed form
  • Fresh eggs
  • Fresh meats, fish and poultry (not breaded, batter-coated or marinated)
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Most dairy products

It’s important to make sure that they are not processed or mixed with gluten-containing grains, additives or preservatives. Many grains and starches can be part of a gluten-free diet:

  • Amaranth
  • Arrowroot
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn and cornmeal
  • Flax
  • Gluten-free flours (rice, soy, corn, potato, bean)
  • Hominy (corn)
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Sorghum
  • Soy
  • Tapioca

Always avoid
Avoid all food and drinks containing:

  • Barley (malt, malt flavoring and malt vinegar are usually made from barley)
  • Rye Triticale (a cross between wheat and rye)
  • Wheat

Avoiding wheat can be challenging because wheat products go by numerous names. Consider the many types of wheat flour on supermarket shelves – bromated, enriched, phosphated, plain and self-rising. Here are other wheat products to avoid:

  • Bulgur
  • Durum flour
  • Farina
  • Graham flour
  • Kamut
  • Semolina
  • Spelt
Cakes and desserts in bakery showcaseAvoid Most Cookies and Cakes :While a gluten-free diet won’t contain most traditional cakes, pies, cookies, and other celebratory treats — which are loaded with wheat flour — there are still lots of ways to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Avoid unless labeled ‘gluten-free’
In general, avoid the following foods unless they’re labeled as gluten-free or made with corn, rice, soy or other gluten-free grain:

  • Beer
  • Breads
  • Cakes and pies
  • Candies
  • Cereals
  • Cookies and crackers
  • Croutons
  • French fries
  • Gravies
  • Imitation meat or seafood
  • Matzo
  • Pastas
  • Processed luncheon meats
  • Salad dressings
  • Sauces, including soy sauce
  • Seasoned rice mixes
  • Seasoned snack foods, such as potato and tortilla chips
  • Soups and soup bases
  • Vegetables in sauce

Certain grains, such as oats, can be contaminated with wheat during growing and processing stages of production. For this reason, doctors and dietitians generally recommend avoiding oats unless they are specifically labeled gluten-free.

Smiling group toasting with red wine in restaurantCheers! You Can Still Raise a Glass : Wine and liquors are generally gluten-free, so you can still raise a glass and offer a toast, no matter what the occasion.

Watch for cross-contamination
Cross-contamination occurs when gluten-free foods come into contact with foods that contain gluten. It can happen during the manufacturing process, for example, if the same equipment is used to make a variety of products. Some food labels include a “may contain” statement if this is the case. But be aware that this type of statement is voluntary. You still need to check the actual ingredient list. If you’re not sure whether a food contains gluten, don’t buy it or check with the manufacturer first to ask what it contains.

Cross-contamination can also occur at home if foods are prepared on common surfaces or with utensils that weren’t thoroughly cleaned after being used to prepare gluten-containing foods. Using a common toaster for gluten-free bread and regular bread is a major source of contamination, for example. Consider what steps you need to take to prevent cross-contamination at home, school or work.

Couple in supermarket checking label of product.Stay Symptom-Free: For most people with celiac disease, even small amounts of gluten can cause symptoms like gas and bloating, changes in bowel movements, weight loss, fatigue, and weakness. That’s why going gluten-free can be a big help — no matter how mild or serious your symptoms. Note: Check with your health care provider before making any major dietary changes.

Results

People with celiac disease who eat a gluten-free diet experience fewer symptoms and complications of the disease. People with celiac disease must eat a strictly gluten-free diet and must remain on the diet for the remainder of their lives.

Not getting enough vitamins
People who follow a gluten-free diet may have low levels of certain vitamins and nutrients in their diets. Ask your dietitian to review your diet to see that you’re getting enough of key nutrients like iron, calcium, fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate.

Not sticking to the gluten-free diet
If you accidentally eat a product that contains gluten, you may experience abdominal pain and diarrhea. Some people experience no signs or symptoms after eating gluten, but this doesn’t mean it’s not damaging their small intestines. Even trace amounts of gluten in your diet may be damaging, whether or not they cause signs or sympt

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5 thoughts on “Gluten-Free Diet: What’s In, What’s Out

  1. Switching to a gluten-free diet is a big change and, like anything new, it takes some getting used to. You may initially feel deprived by the diet’s restrictions. However, try to stay positive and focus on all the foods you can eat. You may also be pleasantly surprised to realize how many gluten-free products, such as bread and pasta, are now available. Many specialty grocery stores sell gluten-free foods. If you can’t find them in your area, check with a celiac support group or go online. –

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