Over recent years, the gluten-free diet has become quite popular. Grocery stores are consistently rolling out new products, completely free from gluten. Restaurants are even catching on and loading their menus with desirable items for individuals following this diet. Is a gluten-free diet right for you, though? Is it really healthier?
FIRST, WHAT EXACTLY IS GLUTEN?
Gluten is a specific name for proteins that are found in wheat, rye, barley, and some oats. Gluten helps food maintain shape, kind of like a “glue” that holds the food together. Gluten can be in foods that you may least expect, so if you follow the diet it’s important to read every label.
Wheat is commonly found in breads, baked goods, cereal, pasta, soups, salad dressings, sauces, and roux.
Barley is found in malt (like flour, malted milk, milkshakes, malt syrup, malt vinegar, and malt flavoring), beer, soups, food coloring, and Brewer’s Yeast.
Rye is found in cereals, rye bread like pumpernickel, and rye beer.
Oats can be cross-contaminated with gluten, so it’s important to know the source of the oats and where they were grown.
WHEN IS GLUTEN BAD?
Consuming gluten if you have celiac disease can wreak havoc on your body. If you have gluten intolerance without celiac, you can also benefit from a gluten-free diet. People who have celiac disease don’t only experience bloating, discomfort, and feeling sick after consuming gluten—there’s more to it. Eating gluten with celiac will trigger an immune response in your small intestine. As time goes on, this reaction will damage your small intestine’s lining and will prevent it from absorbing nutrients, leading to malabsorption. This can lead to serious complications.
According to a Gastroenterol Hepatol journal, people with the following conditions can benefit from a gluten-free diet as well:
Gluten-free is not always the way to go. In fact, a gluten-free diet when you don’t need to follow it could lead to:
HOW TO KNOW IF GLUTEN COULD BE CAUSING ISSUES
If you aren’t aware if you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you may have symptoms that you question. Whether they come from having celiac or not, here are some symptoms to watch for:
If you have one or more of these symptoms, hold yourself back from jumping all in to a gluten-free-diet, though. Wait until you speak to a professional. In case your doctor feels a test to rule out celiac is important, it’s vital to keep consuming gluten until the test. If you go gluten-free before the test, it’s going to show an invalid result.
TYPES OF FOODS YOU CAN EAT ON A GLUTEN FREE DIET
Fruits and Vegetables: Fresh vegetables and fruit are one of the gluten-free foods that you can trust. Keep in mind, though, if the fruits or vegetables that you choose were contaminated in any way, they could contain gluten. The reason why they could be contaminated is if there was extra flavoring or a thickener on it.
The vegetables and fruit that you should always question are cans due to the juices, frozen because of extra flavor or sauces, dried, and pre-chopped. A quick check to make sure the product is labeled gluten-free will let you know if you’re safe.
Protein: Most animal and plant-sourced proteins are naturally gluten-free. However, if it’s processed at all, the food could include fillers like malt vinegar, flour, or soy sauce. Some good proteins usually include legumes, nuts, seeds, red meat, poultry, seafood, and traditional soy foods like tofu and tempeh.
Stay away from any poultry, fish, or meat that has been breaded unless it specifically says gluten-free on the label, seitan, and any proteins that have wheat-based soy sauce.
Dairy: Most dairy products are gluten-free, but only in their natural state. Just like other food, you have to watch for additives and flavorings. Some things to watch for with dairy products are modified food starch, malt, and thickeners. Certain products to always double-check are flavored yogurt and flavored milk, cheese spread and cheese sauces, and ice cream.
Whole Grains: Be sure to always check the label on gluten-free whole grain foods. While some whole grains are naturally gluten-free, they can be processed in the same facility as wheat products. Always make sure the product is certified gluten-free.
Safe whole grains usually include wheat flour, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, wild rice, tapioca, sorghum, amaranth, millet, arrowroot, teff, and oats.
Whole grains to keep your distance from are usually all varieties of wheat, barley, rye, and triticale.
Oils and Fats: Oils and fats are naturally gluten-free. However, some types include additives and thickening agents. It’s ideal to stick with gluten-free fats and oils like olive oil, avocados, butter, ghee, seed oils, vegetable oil, canola oil, sesame oil, and sunflower oil.
Always double check oils that have added spices or flavors and cooking sprays.
Beverages: It’s easy to assume that beverages are safe and that it’s just food you have to worry about. Unfortunately, that’s not true. Usually water, tea, coffee, 100% fruit juice, lemonade, sports drinks, and sodas are all gluten-free. However, you want to avoid beers, lagers, and ales that are made from gluten-containing grains.
Some other beverages to double-check the label of are any beverage that has added mix-ins or flavorings, pre-made, smoothies, distilled liquor like gin, vodka, and whiskey.
FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN EAT
If you are attempting a gluten-free-diet, it’s beneficial to focus on the things you can eat. While you want to keep yourself educated on the food items you shouldn’t have, you shouldn’t dwell on what you can’t eat. With a gluten-free diet, you can modify almost any meal to exclude the gluten.
It’s easy to get tied up in all the restrictions you think you have with gluten. Thankfully, there are several brands on the market, and with the internet filled with recipes, you can find one of your favorite meals (just without the gluten). When you go to a family barbecue, it can also seem daunting thinking of all the food you can’t have. However, if you educate your family and friends, they can cook you something separate and provide gluten-free alternatives. It’s ideal to educate them, regardless, so they know all about cross-contamination and the effects that the smallest amount of gluten has on your body.
You can still eat at restaurants but make sure when they say they have gluten-free food that they prepare everything in its own section. If they use the same utensils or cooking space, you will risk cross-contamination. A gluten-free-diet isn’t for everyone. It’s important to speak to a professional before you attempt changing your diet. If you have symptoms that you believe could be from consuming gluten, it’s wise to get tested.
Schedule an appointment with one of our doctors at Associates in Digestive Health to see if you can benefit from this lifestyle diet. Keep a food journal and mark down what you ate last, the time, and the side effects you had. This will help the doctor, along with testing, to ensure proper diagnosing.