What Is The Gluten-Free Diet? What To Eat and What To Avoid
Keeping up a good and healthy intestinal flora is among the top health and wellness trends that’s been big this year for a number of reasons.
“Gut health is one of the most exciting frontiers of nutrition and health research. It’s getting savvier as people devour information about it. In addition to products touting probiotics (yogurt, kimchi, pickles, kombucha, kefir, miso), we’re going to see tons of products leading with prebiotics (walnuts, asparagus, wheat, sunchokes).” – Jessie Price, editor-in-chief of Eating Well magazine.
A healthy gut is part of a healthy immune system, but this is more significant for people with coeliac or celiac disease—a long-term autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks your tissues when you consume gluten—damaging the gut making you unable to absorb nutrients.
Besides nutrient deficiencies, indications include diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, skin rashes, sharp stomach pain, anemia, weight loss, fatigue, and depression.
Some people also have non-celiac gluten sensitivity with the same symptoms but are not diagnosed with wheat allergy or celiac disease.
Removing gluten from the diet
Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and spelt—the essential ingredient that gives the flour’s sticky consistency, the bread’s chewy texture and allows the bread to rise when baking.
It is found in almost anything: wheat-based pasta, wheat-based bread, baked goods (cakes, pastries, muffins, cookies), pancake, waffle, hamburger buns, pizza, breadcrumbs, scones, condiments, gravies, stocks, and many others.
While some people follow a gluten-free diet for other reasons, for those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, it’s the only treatment and a strict lifelong commitment. Completely removing gluten from the diet may be intimidating, but with careful planning, it can make you healthy and satisfied.
The first thing one should adapt to in a gluten-free diet is reading allergen statements and food labels—to keep an eye out for these red flags: wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt, triticale, brewer’s yeast, Kamut®, bulgur, durum, graham, semolina, and other grains produced through breeding.
It’s also recommended to use separate eating/cooking utensils and wipe your kitchen surface before use to avoid cross-contamination.
Lookout as well for stealth gluten in malt (made from barley), hydrolyzed vegetable protein, battered/coated meat and fish (made of wheat flour), hotdogs and deli meats (additives that might have gluten), flavored nuts and chips (seasoning with gluten), creamy soups (flour as thickener), energy bars (with non-gluten-free oats), veggie bacon/chicken patty (made of seitan), brown flour, brown rice syrup, smoke flavoring, vegetable gum, and flavored dairy products.
Others to avoid include snack foods (muesli bars, crackers, pretzels, candy, flavored popcorn, roasted nuts, pre-packaged convenience foods); sauces (salad dressings, marinades, teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, hoisin sauce); flavored alcoholic beverages; couscous and broth (unless gluten-free labeled); cereal and modified starch (unless labeled gluten-free); and beverages (beer, lager, stout, ales, barley squashes).
Natural gluten-free foods and alternatives
“Many people think that gluten-free means no grains at all, but there are many great gluten-free options out there. Most of your diet should be filled with vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish, and lean meat as dietitians recommend whether you’re gluten-free or not.” – Rachel Begun, M.S., R.D.N., culinary nutritionist and gluten-free expert.
Eating unprocessed, single-ingredient foods is the simplest way to avoid gluten but it’s not always the case. Many gluten-free alternatives are now available in supermarkets and health food stores: rice or potato flour-based bread; corn and rice-based cereals; pasta made of rice, corn, beans, or quinoa; rice noodles; rice cakes and corn chips; and vegetable protein without additives.
Many food choices are also naturally gluten-free: fruits and vegetables, certain grains (amaranth, buckwheat, teff, corn, millet, tapioca, polenta, quinoa, sorghum, rice, arrowroot); certain starches and flours (potato flour, potato, corn, corn flour, chickpea flour, coconut flour, tapioca flour, almond flour, soy flour); all nuts and seeds; all vegetable oils and butter; all herbs and spices; and beverages (cider, wine, spirits, sherry, port, liqueurs, seltzer, fruit juice).
It can all be tricky at first and even make social gatherings difficult when eating out. However, with thorough preparation and knowing the right questions to ask, you can still enjoy eating out with friends and family with many restaurants offering gluten-free options and even an online venue guide from Coeliac UK.
On top of these, you reap the health benefits of a gluten-free diet such as easing digestive problems, reducing chronic inflammation, boosting energy, and losing weight.