There is a growing trend towards gluten-free food and diets for a variety of different reasons. Being gluten-free is beneficial for those who suffer from celiac disease and wheat allergies. And it has proven helpful for many with gastrointestinal issues. It’s also considered a weight-loss diet because many gluten-free foods are higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than their counterparts.
When we look at all these reasons together, it’s evident that people go gluten-free to help them live healthier lives.
There are plenty of misconceptions and potential stumbling points when it comes to going on a gluten-free diet. In this article, we’ll cover everything from where gluten hides to how you can adopt a low-FODMAP meal plan to suit your gluten-free needs. Here are some truths you should know before you start your journey into this new way of living!
What is gluten, and why should you care about it?
Gluten comes from the Latin word for glue and is a protein composite found in wheat, barley and rye flour. It is what gives bread its chewy texture and helps baked goods rise. Gluten can be found in foods made with flour and in many other foods, including condiments, sauces and many packaged products that you would not even think of being associated with gluten.
Unfortunately for some, gluten is not a friendly protein. This is especially true for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine. Gluten makes it worse by causing lesions to form in a person’s intestinal tract lining. This leads to unpleasant symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, weight loss or gain (due to malabsorption), diarrhea or constipation.
Gluten intolerance is a little different. It may have similar symptoms to celiac disease, but the cause is different. In this case, your immune system is treating gluten like an invader that shouldn’t be there. So it sends antibodies to attack the gluten, which causes inflammation and damage of the gut wall.
Do your homework and be prepared.
The first step to going gluten-free for life is learning the many places gluten may be hiding and being vigilant in your search for it.
A common mistake in starting a gluten-free diet is thinking it will be straightforward. That’s because some believe nearly everything is gluten-free except bread, which is the apparent culprit to stay away from.
The reality is many foods that you would never expect to contain gluten do. And some foods are processed with shared equipment and therefore can contain traces of gluten despite not being made from wheat or other gluten-containing grains. Then there are items or products we use that may contain gluten despite not even being food! Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Gluten in meat: Some meats that you may think of as gluten-free, such as pork, chicken, turkey and beef, can contain traces of gluten due to the way they are handled before processing and packaging. Fortunately, some companies now offer meat products labeled as gluten-free. They’re processed in facilities free from gluten contamination.
Another interesting twist on eating meat is that most processed chicken, turkey and beef come with a mixture of spices and other ingredients, including flour. So, once again, it is essential to read the ingredients list to avoid foods containing traces of gluten.
Gluten in condiments and other food additives: Condiments purchased at your grocery store can contain many different ingredients processed with shared equipment or contain traces of gluten due to the way they are produced. Some examples include soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, relish and other pickles and BBQ sauce.
Non-food items containing gluten: Another issue is non-food items such as cosmetics, vitamins, medications, toothpaste, baby formula and more. All of these may contain gluten and should also be scrutinized for traces of it to avoid any problems.
Shopping for your gluten-free diet.
Taking the skills and training from the first point, you’re now ready to tackle the second area that someone just starting with gluten-free living needs to consider — grocery shopping!
There are tons of gluten-free options at grocery stores nowadays, which means you can find many ingredients and food items that you need in a single trip. Gone are the days of hopping around to specialty stores across the city or in neighboring towns.
Thanks to the growing popularity of gluten-free eating, you can find a variety of gluten-free bread, pasta and cereal in supermarkets and online retailers. They’ll generally be clearly labeled as being gluten-free, which makes your life easier.
There are also many gluten-free grains that you can eat and that are made into various flours. These include rice, corn and quinoa. In addition, you can find gluten-free versions of many common foods such as pasta, bread, cereal and baked goods made from these.
However, it is important to read the labels on your products to see what they actually contain so that you don’t have any surprises later. For example, many companies label their products gluten-free. Still, they contain trace amounts due to cross-contamination with shared equipment.
So look for something that says the product you’re buying was processed in a gluten-free facility if you want to be super sure.
When in doubt, leave it on the shelf and grab something else instead.
Eating out at restaurants.
The third hurdle to cross when it comes to gluten-free lifestyles is dealing with eating out.
A big concern for many people switching to a gluten-free diet is eating out because it looks pretty complicated. However, with some preparation, you will feel comfortable at restaurants and will be able to enjoy your meal.
Fortunately, some restaurants are now catering to gluten-free living. They take additional time to make sure that their food is gluten-free by using separate plates, utensils and pans, among other methods of preventing cross-contamination.
Check menus and reviews before going to a restaurant to ensure they have food options for you and follow proper kitchen procedures for preventing contamination.
Get help when you need it.
There are many helpful resources available to get you started on your gluten-free path. These include web resources (like this one), professional help from dietitians and food plans that you can also follow.
Using a plan of any type is always a recipe for success. It doesn’t even have to be exclusively gluten-free for a start because many other diets can be adapted. For example, when you look at a low-FODMAP meal plan or Mediterranean diet meal plan, you’ll see that these diets already cut out tons of the offending foods you’d need to get rid of anyway. With these prepared meals, you’ll be eating gluten-free with ease.
Using plans and getting help from professionals makes it easier to stay on track with your new eating habits. This way, you can allow your body to heal and repair without slips or accidents.
The final word on going gluten-free.
If you’ve been thinking about it, you should definitely give it a try. But don’t be intimidated by the adjustments you’ll have to make. The benefits you’ll get by easing digestive issues, regaining your energy and reducing chronic inflammation are all worth the effort.
You deserve to be the healthiest, best you possible. A gluten-free diet can get you there! Begin your journey today.