On the Gluten-Free Diet: Do You Trust Your Gut?
Need to avoid gluten? Know the ins and outs of what it means to go gluten-free
Trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle and eating enjoyable foods can be challenging if you need to follow a gluten-free diet. Whether you suffer from gluten-intolerance or sensitivity, have been diagnosed with Celiac’s Disease, have a wheat allergy, or perhaps have another reason why you have to avoid eating gluten, like an auto-immune disorder or problems with acid reflux, Crones, or colitis, you may think that access to diverse and tasty food options are limited. However, today there is much more awareness in both the healthcare field and society about the issues that gluten can present for certain people, and there have been great strides made allowing those who follow a gluten free diet easier meal prep and more delicious options; you just need to know where to look.
What Issues Can Gluten Cause?
So, it’s important to first point out that gluten is not bad. It’s just bad for the people that are unable to process it. Gluten is a combination of two proteins found in some grains, especially wheat, that provides dough with its elasticity. In people who are gluten-intolerant, for example, a person with Celiac’s Disease (the severest form of gluten-intolerance), the body treats gluten as an invader which triggers an immune response. The immune system then attacks the gluten as well as the lining of the gut and can cause a myriad of symptoms.
If you suffer from gluten intolerance, some of the issues that you might experience include digestive discomfort, bloating, diarrhea, headaches, depression, skin rashes, constipation, tissue damage in the small intestines, weight loss, vomiting, and anemia. These side effects can vary from person to person, and some people may not even experience digestive issues, they may instead, for example, only feel extremely tired and get frequent headaches. Some people feel the results immediately and other people won’t realize they have been “glutened” until several hours later. To make matters even more confusing, some people may have different adverse reactions to different types of gluten, for example, vomiting when it’s a liquid source (like a liquid marinade or soy sauce) or a headache if it’s in flour form. If you think you may have a gluten sensitivity or another issue involving gluten, before eliminating it from your diet you should consult with your doctor to confirm your suspicions. If you cut out gluten before your doctor can perform necessary tests, it could be more difficult for him to detect a problem, and knowing is the first step in becoming a healthier and happier you. Because the concrete test for gluten intolerance involves a biopsy, many choose to not go such an invasive route and simply to just adjust their diet to see if eliminating gluten helps them to feel better. Most will see results within 2 weeks, while many will see results within 48 hours.
What Can You Do If You Need to Follow a Gluten-Free Diet?
If you discover that a gluten-free diet is the best option for you, then there are several things that you can do to start feeling some relief. Of course, one of the main things is to change your diet, meaning you will need to think differently about the foods that you have been consuming. Although it can be difficult to determine if certain foods contain gluten, there are several foods that are naturally gluten-free, including:
- Meat and fish (without batter or any coatings, and without being marinated)
- Plain dairy products
- Fruits and vegetables
- Vegetable oils and butter
- Nuts and seeds
- Herbs and spices (excluding some spice blends)
In addition to these foods, there are also several flours that are safe to eat including potato flour, cornflour, soy flour, coconut flour, almond flour, and tapioca flour. Some grains are also gluten-free including quinoa, rice, buckwheat, sorghum, millet, corn, tapioca, and arrowroot. Most beverages are gluten-free, with the exception of beer, unless otherwise labeled, many drinks with caramel coloring (this includes “Mexican coke” and Starbucks), and a lot of different types of alcohol.. If you are in doubt as to whether or not a food contains gluten, read the label carefully, specifically ask how something is made if you are in a restaurant, and if you are still not 100% certain, then choose something else.
Gluten is tricky because it’s not so easily defined. It can be found in its natural forms (oats, barley, rye, or wheat), but it can also be used as a binding agent so therefore can be found in candy (especially when chocolate and peanut butter are involved), ice cream, caramel and caramel coloring, spice blends, soups, salad dressings, and other condiments like mustard.
Moreover, Many foods that you may think are gluten-free, have gluten added to them or they can be made or processed in a facility that also makes products that contain gluten, which can cause cross-contamination. The usual food culprits for added gluten are things like cereals, baked goods, snack foods, sauces, flavored alcoholic beverages, and all wheat-based bread and pasta. Your best course of action is to always thoroughly read food labels when you are grocery shopping.
Many Americans think gluten is just a fad, so don’t take seriously those who actually suffer from gluten intolerance, and on top of that, many don’t have any idea what the heck gluten actually is. If you can overcome these hurdles, you still have one very important issue to deal with: Cross contamination. If you share a kitchen with anyone who eats gluten, make sure you thoroughly wash or use different utensils and pots for preparing your food. You’ll also want to get your own toaster and frequently clean your toaster oven.
Going Gluten-Free Affects More Than Your Diet
Following a gluten-free diet can present some challenges that go beyond diet choices. Often foods that are marketed as gluten-free are more costly, and eating gluten-free can make socializing more difficult, as well as cause issues such as certain nutritional deficiencies and constipation. Therefore, if you adopt a gluten-free diet, here are some things to try in addition to adjusting the foods that you eat:
- Prepare Before You Party — In other words, if you have a social engagement coming up, or you are simply going to eat out with friends, allow yourself some time for prior planning. Most restaurants today offer a variety of gluten-free options. Check out menus before you go, and inquire if they make any special accommodations for guests with food allergies. If you are going to a catered event, you may want to eat before you go and bring your own snacks to have on hand. These are certainly more enjoyable alternatives to being one of the 21% of people that say they avoid social situations because of their gluten-free diet. A useful tool called the Nima Sensor can scientifically test for gluten and let you know if more than 20 parts per million are detected in any given dish.
- Use a Common “Cents” Approach — Gluten-free food is often more expensive because it costs companies more to make it due to stricter guidelines that must be followed to legally claim the food is gluten-free. To help offset some of these costs, stick with whole, single-ingredient foods, keep your eye out for sales and make meals at home. Our Paleo Meal Prep Plans at Sensible Meals offer delicious gluten-free options at reasonable prices since we use all fresh, unprocessed foods, so you can stick to your gluten-free diet without having to waste time overthinking your budget.
- Supplement — If you are lacking in certain vitamins and nutrients due to the need to cut out certain foods from your diet, talk to your doctor about supplementing with vitamins. Most who suffer from gluten intolerance are also drastically low on Vitamin D levels, due to a decreased level of so that’s a really important one to make sure you’re getting a supplement for. You can also search for foods that you can eat that are rich in these nutrients, for example, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables if a lack of fiber is causing you issues with constipation. Ground Flaxseed is also an excellent choice for adding some necessary fiber back into your diet, which is also usually lacking in a gluten free diet due to lack of fibrous grains. You may also want to look into supplements that are sublingual or melt in the mouth, because often times they are not absorbed through an affected person’s intestinal tract correctly.
Once you start following a gluten-free diet, you will be surprised at the changes that can occur; you may find that you have significantly more energy, fewer headaches, less bloating and less intestinal discomfort. When you feel good, you’re more likely to stick to a plan that works for you, so getting yourself on the right track is critical to your weight-loss or weight-maintenance goals.
If you need a little extra help when it comes to eating gluten-free, check out some of these valuable resources to get started:
- Facebook Groups, like Gluten-Free New Orleans, Gluten Free In New Orleans, and Gluten-Free on a Shoestring
- The Gluten Free Guide to New Orleans
- The Gluten Intolerance Group – www.gluten.org
- Celiac Disease Foundation
Don’t let gluten-intolerance or sensitivity hold you back from being the healthy you that you want to be! Sensible Meals offers solutions for you that can get you the results you are looking for! To learn more great tips about how you can achieve a healthier lifestyle no matter what unique challenges you face, check out the rest of our blog!