Curious about gluten, how to maintain a gluten-free diet, and who should adopt this lifestyle?
Let’s start with the basics.
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a family of proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. Gliadin and glutenin are the primary proteins responsible for the elastic texture found in gluten-containing foods, like fresh bread. Gluten forms a spider web-like structure that binds ingredients and helps bread rise during baking.
Why Go Gluten-Free?
A gluten-free diet has three main reasons: wheat allergy, gluten sensitivity/intolerance, and celiac disease.
The terms non-celiac gluten sensitivity or intolerance, often used interchangeably, pertain to an adverse reaction to gluten without celiac disease.
Is gluten sensitivity/intolerance a disease? No, but it can lead to distressing symptoms triggered by gluten consumption. These symptoms might encompass diarrhea, constipation, bloating, fatigue, and abdominal discomfort.
Certain health conditions can heighten the likelihood of developing gluten sensitivity/intolerance, such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and various autoimmune disorders.
Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that individuals sometimes inaccurately self-diagnose gluten sensitivity. For instance, a 2015 study scrutinized 392 patients who claimed gluten sensitivity/intolerance. The findings revealed that only 26 had celiac disease, 27 exhibited legitimate gluten sensitivity/intolerance, and the remaining 337 didn’t fulfill the diagnostic criteria.
Individuals with celiac disease may experience similar symptoms to those with gluten sensitivity/intolerance but with heightened severity.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition wherein the body perceives gluten as a hostile invader. This prompts the body to attack both gluten and the lining of the digestive tract, particularly the finger-like projections called villi in the small intestine. These villi play a huge role in nutrient absorption.
In celiac disease, each instance of gluten consumption contributes to villi damage, resulting in impaired nutrient absorption and an escalated risk of developing other health issues.
The condition can be definitively diagnosed through blood tests or biopsies. A blood test, accurate only when gluten is consumed, detects high Tissue Transglutaminase Antibodies (tTG-IgA). A biopsy involves extracting a small intestinal tissue sample to assess villi damage.
Distinct from gluten sensitivity, a wheat allergy manifests when the body produces antibodies in response to proteins in wheat, not necessarily gluten proteins. A diagnosis for this typically involves skin or blood tests.
Should You Go Gluten-Free?
Consulting a registered dietitian is your best course of action if you’re deliberating the suitability of a gluten-free diet. They can ascertain whether your symptoms link to gluten intake. Once established, your next step involves consulting your doctor. Together, your care team and you can determine whether you’re grappling with sensitivity/intolerance, celiac disease, or a wheat allergy.
If a gluten-free diet is the right choice for you, transitioning may seem daunting, but finding substitutes can help ease the process. Learning to read nutrition labels is crucial for confident gluten-free shopping.
Identifying Gluten on Food Labels
- Spot the Certified Gluten-Free Label or Symbol: While not ubiquitous, a certified gluten-free label eliminates uncertainty. If absent, proceed to step two.
- Peruse the Allergen Section: The FDA mandates the identification of the top 8 allergens, including wheat, in product labeling. Check for the “contains:” section toward the label’s base. Foods that are labeled gluten-free, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules, must have fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten. Foods with these labels may include: Naturally gluten-free food, prepared food that doesn’t have a gluten-containing ingredient, food that has not been cross-contaminated with gluten-containing ingredients during production, and food with a gluten-containing ingredient that has been processed to remove gluten
- Inspect the Ingredient List for the following: Wheat (all strains and forms such as durum, spelt, semolina, couscous, bulgur, emmer, farina, farro, and einkorn), Barley, and Rye. Avoid derivatives and variants of these three grains, such as:
- Triticale – a crossbreed of wheat and rye
- Wheat starch that hasn’t undergone processing to reduce gluten content to acceptable levels for gluten-free status
- Malt extract – derived from barley
- Malt vinegar – originating from barley
- Brewer’s yeast – typically obtained from beers brewed from wheat, barley, or rye (although it can also be sourced from sugar beets)
If your product clears these steps, it’s likely gluten-free. If in doubt, or if label reading proves challenging, you can rely on naturally gluten-free items like meat, eggs, fruits, and vegetables.
Review Getting Started on a Gluten-Free Diet: A Step-By-Step Guide – GIG® Gluten Intolerance Group® or Gluten-Free Foods | Celiac Disease Foundation for more in-depth information on what to watch out for and consult a registered dietitian or a doctor to gain a better understanding.
Common Foods/Items with Gluten
Foods with Gluten unless stated otherwise:
- Pasta: ravioli, dumplings, couscous, gnocchi
- Noodles: ramen, udon, some soba, chow mein, egg noodles
- Bread and Pastries: croissants, pita, naan, bagels, flatbreads, cornbread, potato bread, muffins, donuts, rolls
- Crackers: pretzels, goldfish, graham crackers
- Baked Goods: cakes, cookies, pie crusts, brownies
- Cereal & Granola: some corn flakes, rice puffs with malt extract, non-gluten-free granola
- Breakfast Items: pancakes, waffles, french toast, crepes, biscuits
- Coating & Breading Mixes: panko breadcrumbs
- Croutons: in salads, dressings, stuffings
- Sauces & Gravies (often thickened with wheat flour): traditional soy sauce, cream sauces with roux
- Flour tortillas
- Regular Beer and malt beverages (unless labeled gluten-free)
- Brewer’s Yeast
- Items containing “wheat flour”
Possibly Contain Gluten:
- Energy bars, granola bars
- French fries (batter or cross-contamination)
- Some potato chips (malt vinegar, wheat starch)
- Processed lunch meats
- Certain candies and candy bars
- Soups (cream-based with flour, barley content)
- Multi-grain or “artisan” tortilla chips/tortillas
- Salad dressings and marinades (malt vinegar, soy sauce, flour)
- Starch or dextrin on meats
- Brown rice syrup (possible barley enzymes)
- Meat substitutes with seitan (wheat gluten)
- Soy sauce (check for wheat-free tamari)
- Pre-marinated meats
- Cheesecake filling (some with wheat flour)
- Eggs at restaurants (potential pancake batter)
Distilled Beverages & Vinegars:
- Most distilled alcohols and vinegar are gluten-free
- Some alcoholic drinks contain unsafe gluten levels (check labels)
- Beers, ales, lagers, malt beverages, and malt vinegar from gluten grains are not gluten-free
Other Items Requiring Verification:
- Lip products near the mouth
- Oral care, dental products
- Communion wafers
- Herbal, nutritional supplements
- Medications, vitamins, supplements
- Play-dough (ensure gluten-free ingredients)
Opt for naturally gluten-free grains and flours, including but not limited to rice, corn, soy, potato, tapioca, sorghum, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, cassava, coconut, arrowroot, amaranth, teff, flax, chia, yucca, bean flours, and nut flours.
The gluten-free market offers an array of bread products, from traditional loaves to tortillas, pizza crusts, and English muffins. Opt for products with nutrient-rich ingredients such as quinoa, amaranth, chia, millet, flaxseeds, cashew flour, almond flour, chickpea flour, and cassava flour. Watch carefully because certain gluten-free breads might incorporate excessive sugars or high-fructose corn syrup. Crafting your own bread at home is also an option.
Pasta and Noodles
Gluten-free pasta and noodles derived from brown rice, beans, and quinoa. These alternatives often boast higher protein and fiber content than traditional varieties, accompanied by additional vitamins and minerals. The textures and flavors are akin to their conventional counterparts.
Dressings and Sauces
Making your own dressings and sauces helps. Also, liquid aminos serve as a suitable substitute for soy sauce. It’s gluten-free and possesses comparable flavor with reduced sodium content. For some great recipes: Definitive Guide to Salad Dressings
Review the candy list that includes holiday candy too!
Baked Goods and Flour Substitutes
A variety of gluten-free flour blends are at your disposal, including coconut flour, almond flour, and rice flour, allowing for diverse baking possibilities. Homemade baked goods like brownies, cookies, and banana bread are options, while store-bought gluten-free selections should be chosen wisely.
- Homemade Gluten Free Flour Blend – The Loopy Whisk
- Xanthan Gum in Gluten Free Baking – The Loopy Whisk
- Almond Flour vs Almond Meal: What’s the Difference? – The Loopy Whisk
- Cornstarch vs Corn Flour: What’s the Difference? – The Loopy Whisk
- Psyllium Husk in Gluten Free Baking – The Loopy Whisk
This resource allows you to see other Gluten-Free products available.
For individuals, especially those with celiac disease, safeguarding against gluten exposure is crucial. The following recommendations can assist in preventing cross-contamination during home cooking and in steering clear of gluten-laden foods while dining out:
- Segregate gluten-free and gluten-containing foods, storing them separately.
- Ensure cleanliness of cooking surfaces and food storage areas.
- Thoroughly wash dishes and cooking utensils.
- Opt to use the oven for toasting bread, or contemplate dedicated toasters to avert cross-contamination.
Favorite Recipe Sources
- The Loopy Whisk
- Cookie and Kate
- ‘Clean Eating’ Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free & Soy-Free Recipes
- Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Soy Free – $5 Dinners | Budget Recipes, Meal Plans, Freezer Meals
- Instant Loss – Conveniently Cook Your Way To Weight Loss
- Gluten Free on a Shoestring
So, you’ve got label-reading down, but what about tackling gluten-free eating at a restaurant? It’s all about knowing the right questions to ask to make intelligent choices.
First, choose off-peak dining hours—early or late—when eateries are less crowded and better equipped to accommodate your dietary needs.
Second, get comfy asking loads of questions. For instance, is the dressing from a bottle or made on-site? If it’s from a bottle, there might be gluten lurking; but if it’s homemade, go ahead and ask for the lowdown on ingredients. Gluten-free menus are a handy tool, but they’re not foolproof. Let’s say you’re at a restaurant for brunch – make sure to check if the eggs share the same griddle as the pancakes, risking cross-contamination. And those fries, are they taking a dip in the same oil that once-fried breaded stuff like chicken fingers? Oh, and what about the gluten-free pasta – is it getting boiled up in the same pot as the regular pasta? Your server’s there to spill the beans – especially if you’re all smiles – so don’t hesitate to stand up for your gluten-free needs.
Does Eating Gluten-Free Work?
If you have celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is essential to prevent damage to the small intestine. Avoiding gluten is crucial for overall health and well-being even with mild symptoms. Stay committed to your doctor and dietitian’s recommendations for long-term benefits.
Is Going Gluten-Free Effective for Weight Loss?
Individuals who transition to a gluten-free diet often experience weight loss, primarily due to the elimination of processed foods and refined carbs containing gluten. Should you decide to remove gluten for weight management, it’s crucial to keep an eye on portion control, maintain a consistent exercise routine, and prioritize consuming wholesome foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
The exclusion of certain foods from a gluten-free diet means missing out on vital vitamins and nutrients. For instance, whole-grain bread and related products serve as natural or enriched sources of essential elements like:
- Dietary fiber
So adopting a gluten-free diet can lead to alterations in your nutrient intake. And several gluten-free foods exhibit elevated fat and sugar content compared to their gluten-containing counterparts. It’s vital to scrutinize labels not just for gluten content, but also for comprehensive nutrient levels, salt, fat, and sugar calories.
- Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity among Patients Perceiving Gluten-Related Symptoms – PubMed
- Getting Started on a Gluten-Free Diet: A Step-By-Step Guide – GIG® Gluten Intolerance Group®
- Gluten-Free Foods | Celiac Disease Foundation
- Gluten-free diet – Mayo Clinic
- Gluten-Free Diet: Is It Right for Me? | Johns Hopkins Medicine