There are a lot of people that have chosen to eat gluten-free diets out of necessity. They either have severe pain due to the inability to digest gluten, Celiac disease (a diagnosable immune system reaction to eating gluten), or general cramps and sensitivity in the gut when they eat glutinous or wheat containing products.
However, some people have chosen to eat gluten-free diets because they believe that it is a healthier way to live. Although this can hold true for some, it is important to do a gluten-free diet the right way, and not just by substituting with gluten-free products.
In the same way that vegetarians use meat-like substitutes in their diets, often these products are very processed and contain a lot of fillers and unhealthy ingredients. It’s important to be aware of this when going gluten-free as well.
Why should I try a gluten-free diet?
If you’re having digestive issues (cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea), immune system issues (getting sick frequently, inflammation), or having trouble losing weight, eating a gluten-free diet for a while could be beneficial especially if done right.*
Begin by eliminating foods containing gluten from your diet, and instead eat a diet rich in healthy fats, lean meats, fruits, and lots of vegetables. Use grains such as quinoa or brown rice instead of pastas, and eliminate bread entirely for a little while.
After one month, you can try eating a small amount of gluten (such as a slice of bread or a small bowl of pasta) and see how you feel after a few hours, and again after a few days. Did your symptoms return, or return more severely? If so, you could have a sensitivity to gluten or wheat.
*Be sure to consult your doctor, dietitian, or nutritionist before attempting a new diet plan or significantly changing your diet.
What does it mean to be gluten-free?
A gluten-free diet does not include: wheat, barley, rye, or certain oats (that might be cross contaminated). Wheat and gluten are usually in products such as bread, crackers, pasta, and processed foods (like canned soup, sauces, or packaged dinners), however they can also be included in alcoholic beverages (such as beer), candy, cereals, cookies, wafers, imitation meat & seafood, hot dogs, and dressings.
When eating a gluten-free diet, it’s more important than ever to read your labels carefully. Sneaky terms for gluten on food labels are: durum, einkorn, emmer, kamut, and spelt.
What can you eat on a gluten-free diet?
Anything not containing wheat or gluten (usually marked on the package these days) is great! However, it is never a good idea to simply swap out something labeled gluten-free for something that usually contains gluten - it still means that the product is processed, which is not a great option for any diet.
For example, the top gluten-free products sold to both American and Canadian consumers in a recent study were: crackers, pasta, bread, cereal, cookies, and pizza. Although these products are delicious on occasion, they aren’t things your diet should be filled with when trying to have a healthy and balanced diet.
Be wary when going out to eat as well. Restaurant foods that are surprisingly not gluten-free:
Restaurants will often coat chicken wings in flour before frying and tossing in sauce.
Certain french fries.
Sometimes fries are beer-battered or coated in flour before frying.
Soups or sauces.
Always speak up, and ask if soup or chili contains gluten. Flour is often used to thicken soups and sauces.
When in doubt, go with a lean protein and a fresh salad or steamed veggies. You can be more confident that they will be gluten-free! Either way, be sure to ask questions to your server. They may need to ask the chef to confirm, but it’s better to know ahead of time rather than deal with the digestive consequences down the road.
Instead of choosing processed foods, instead eat plenty of:
Use spiralized zucchini as “noodles” and finely chopped cauliflower as “rice”. They are more delicious, more nutritious, and naturally gluten-free!
Grains like quinoa and brown rice, and even brown rice noodles are excellent substitutes.
Such as chicken, fish, and grass-fed beef.
Beans and legumes.
Beans are a wonderful way to help feel full and satisfied after a meal, without any gluten.
Nuts and seeds.
Rather than munching on “naturally gluten-free” potato or tortilla chips, opt for nuts or seeds instead.
If you decide to try a gluten-free diet, talk to your doctor, nutritionist, or dietitian to start you off with all of the information you may need. Remember that a healthy diet is full of whole foods such as the ones listed above, rather than over-processed substitutes.
[Credit: Pratt, Heather. “A Gluten-Free Diet Done Right.” Natural Grocers.]
[Credit: Mayo Clinic. “Gluten-Free Diet.”]
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