Gluten-free diet has become a popular trend these days, and gluten-free products have started lining up on shelves in grocery stores. You must be thinking about what exactly a gluten-free diet is, and how it can benefit you. First of all, understand that gluten-free diet is a kind of diet which excludes any food from your diet that contains gluten.
Gluten-free diet is the only possible treatment for celiac disease. But today, more and more people are going gluten-free, because a gluten-free diet has been recently proved to be helpful in weight loss, and for the treatment of autism too. Gluten-free diet is highly beneficial for patients suffering from type 2 diabetes as well.
What is gluten?
Close-up of farmers wheat ready for harvest
Gluten is a composite protein found basically in wheat and other species of such grains such as kamut, triticale, spelt, barley, rye etc. It is also present in any food that is processed from such grains, or is grown near these grains, such as oats. Gluten comes from the latin word ‘glue’, and is responsible for giving elasticity to dough, thus helping it to rise and stay in shape. Gluten is the protein responsible for giving a chewy texture to the final product. It is also used as a thickener in several soups, gravies, broths, mayonnaise and salad dressings. It can be added to some yogurts in order to give it a creamier, smoother and more palatable characteristic. Owing to its stabilizing property, it is found in a substance used for sealing envelopes too. It is added to some meat substitutes and protein supplements as well for vegetarians and vegans.
Benefits of a gluten-free diet
Apart from being an effective treatment for celiac disease and autism, a gluten-free diet has also been researched by weight loss specialists, dieticians, bariatric physicians, and other such professionals. A gluten-free diet has been proved to provide a variety of benefits to human health, such as improvement in the cholesterol levels, promotion of digestive health, enhanced energy levels, controlled blood sugar levels, etc. While following this diet, you will end up eliminating several foods from your diet that are unhealthy, which is automatically beneficial for your health. For example, desserts high in fat and sugar will be completely removed from your diet.
Options available for gluten-free diet followers
So, if you are following a gluten-free diet for whatever reason, the market is full of gluten-free products for you to choose from.
Look for these: Gluten-free breads:
There are different kinds of gluten-free breads available these days, such as classic white bread, cinnamon raison bread, multi-grain bread, white sandwich bread, corn-bread, etc. Majority of these breads are gluten-free, but you should double check its label and seal before purchasing them. Always read the ingredients. Today, more and more food companies are listing allergen lists on the food labels. If wheat is an ingredient, it will be listed in there as well.
Most gluten-free diet followers crave for pasta. The good news is that companies have come up with gluten-free pasta which is very similar to its original flavor. You will be able to buy fettuccini, elbow macaroni, spirals, spaghetti, lasagna, fusilli and many others made of brown rice, potato, and soy.
This kind of stuffing is made up of tasty stuffing bits made with no wheat. It is usually made up of corn starch, brown rice flour, white rice flour or tapioca. You can use this stuffing in any kind of gluten-free preparation.
Believe it or not, dietary supplements can also contain gluten traces. Excipients with gluten are added to hold the tablets together. As a gluten-free diet may be deficient in certain kinds of nutrients, taking supplements while following a gluten-free diet becomes necessary. There is a variety of gluten-free supplements available out there, such as multi-vitamins, minerals, herbs, enzymes and botanical remedies.
Deficiencies associated with a gluten-free diet
Most of the time, a gluten-free diet is not enriched or fortified with essential nutrients like iron, folic acid, and fiber. Because of the non-availability of gluten-free products everywhere, gluten-free diet followers also end up not consuming the recommended amount of servings per day. Such deficiencies can often lead to anemia and low calcium levels in people following a gluten-free diet. However, your dietician can recommend some changes in your diet or suggest certain supplements that can overcome these deficiencies.
List of foods you can eat while on a gluten-free diet
Cornmeal is on top of the list of gluten-free foods. After all, it serves as a substitute for flour while you are on a gluten-free diet. Even if you are on a gluten-free diet, you can eat a wide range of products on everyday basis. Some of your favorites may include butter, milk, cream, buttermilk, cheese, eggs, soymilk and yogurt.
As far as beverages are concerned, you can continue consuming some beers, coffee drinks, chocolate drinks, apple cider, energy drinks, creamers, juice drink mixes, shakes, smoothies, hot cocoa mixes, tea, etc. Some of the products that are naturally gluten-free, unless contaminated, include milk, honey, sugar, beans, cornstarch, potato, olives, vinegar, fish, turkey, etc. All fruits and vegetables are free from gluten, in addition to meat, seafood, nut butter, peppers, pickles, beef, chicken, sunflower seeds, raw kale chips, etc.
Most of the salsa brands, chocolates, sour cream, flavored water, carbonated drinks, tofu, tempeh, agave syrups, etc. are gluten free. However, you must still continue to check the labels carefully before purchasing anything.
You can easily understand that wheat has to be completely eliminated from your diet. But it can come hidden in some other grain products such as farina, bulgur, graham flour, durum flour, spelt, semolina and kamut. You will have to eliminate all these items from your diet. Before you buy any beer, bread, cake, pie, candy, cereal, cookies, crackers, french fries, croutons, imitation meat, imitation seafood, gravies, pasta, matzo, salad dressings, processed luncheon meat, sauce, seasoned rice mix, potato chips, tortilla chips, soup base, self-basting poultry, etc., check their label and make sure that it is gluten-free.
The controversy about oats
The consumption of oats is highly controversial, as far as a gluten-free diet is concerned. Although oats are free of gluten and can be safely consumed during this diet, they may be contaminated with wheat, making them unfit for a gluten-free diet. Often times, oats are grown on the same field on which wheat was planted before. In this way, oats get contaminated enough to cause a severe reaction in gluten sensitive and gluten intolerant patients. In addition to that, wheat and oats are processed in same facilities too, thus leading to sufficient contamination. Experts usually recommend elimination of oats entirely from the diet, unless the oats are specifically labeled as ‘gluten free’.
How to read a gluten-free label
FALCPA (Food Allergen Labeling & Consumer Protection Act) requires the food manufactures to mention the top 8 allergens in their food on their label. But gluten is not one of these 8 allergens, and you need to beware while reading purchasing any products. Also understand that any product labeled as ‘wheat-free’ is not necessarily ‘gluten-free’. So, whenever you go to the store, take a few minutes and read the labels carefully. As soon as you come across a word like oats, rye, barley, wheat or malt, put the package back on the counter. If you do not find any such words, try to make sure that the item was not manufactured in a factory where wheat is also processed.
Remember, cross-contamination can be as dangerous as gluten consumption. If you are confused about a product’s labeling, you can contact the manufacturer and ask if it is completely gluten-free. Also look for products that are labeled gluten-free, but they are actually not. For example, oats can be labeled as gluten-free, but they may be contaminated with barley or wheat, thus making them unsafe for gluten intolerant patients. In such a case, you can call the manufacturer and double check if it is made in a gluten-free environment. They may take a few minutes to ascertain, but it is definitely better to be safe rather than sorry.
Side effects of starting a gluten-free diet
When you eliminate all gluten from your diet, you may start experiencing mild to severe gluten withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, and intense cravings for gluten. Some gluten-free diet beginners may also develop hives, headaches or mild rashes. This is probably because your body, particularly your liver, is detoxifying, and suddenly starts processing and eliminating toxins. You need to understand that this is only a part of the process, and will pass soon. So, there is no need to worry. However, you should seek medical help if your symptoms become intolerable.
During the initial days, you may feel deprived due to all the restrictions involved in a gluten-free diet. But you will be surprised to see how many gluten-free products are available in the market today. There are specialty stores too, which have a separate section for gluten-free products, including pastas, crackers, breads, chips, cookies, cereals, butter, etc. So, do not feel disadvantaged, and enjoy the benefits a gluten-free diet is going to deliver to you.