Unfortunately, there is no cure for celiac disease. But, the symptoms can be mitigated by a strict gluten-free diet. The gluten-free movement has exploded in popularity over the decade or so. While some people voluntarily choose to eliminate gluten from their diet, if you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, you have no choice. Luckily, there are a lot of great resources available to make this transition as smooth as possible.
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What is gluten?
Gluten is simply a term for the two combined prolamin proteins naturally found in certain grains. Gliadin and glutenin are the two proteins that make up gluten. The gluten protein “gliadin” is what causes adverse reactions in some people.
Gluten is a “sticky” or glue-like protein usually found in grains such as wheat (farina, spelt, farro, durum, emmer, einkorn, and khorasan wheat) rye, barley, and triticale.
Gluten is responsible for the:
- elasticity of dough and pasta
- chewiness of bread
- rising property of dough (bread/pizza) during baking
- ability of bread (and other foods) to retain its shape
- ability of cheese to spread
- smooth texture of condiments
- prevention of sauces from curdling
- thickening and filler-like properties of food products
What foods contain gluten?
We’ll start with obvious sources of gluten, such as wheat, barley, and rye. It’s important to realize that “wheat” includes all forms, including:
- triticale (a wheat/rye mixture)
- cake flour
- matzo (or matzah)
You should also be aware of foods containing ingredients with names that contain “wheat,” including:
- wheat starch
- hydrolyzed wheat protein
- modified wheat starch
- pre-gelatinized wheat protein
As mentioned above, barley also contains gluten. And malt typically contains gluten because it is often made from barley. In fact, malted grain is used to make:
- malt syrup
- malt extract
- malt flavoring
- malt vinegar
- malted shakes
- malt loaf
- Rich Tea biscuits
Rye is a grain that’s very similar to barley and wheat. It’s often found in the following:
- rye bread
- pumpernickel bread
- crisp bread
- rye beer
- whiskey (some)
- vodka (some)
The issue of cross contamination
In addition, many types of grains, such as oats, are frequently processed near gluten-filled grains and are subsequently cross-contaminated with gluten. However, there are many food manufacturers who now produce gluten-free oats, which are specifically labeled “gluten-free.”
In principle, some kind of gluten can likely be found in any type of grain, not just wheat, barley, and rye. However, it’s those three types of grains that are responsible for the majority of gluten-related health issues.
Other sources of gluten
Additionally, floured or breaded seafood, poultry, meat, and vegetables will also contain gluten.
Furthermore, you should be aware that any poultry, meat, or vegetables with sauces (soy and teriyaki) or marinades are likely to contain gluten.
Gluten can also be found in many unlikely places, such as:
- Chewing gum
- salad dressing
- Imitation crab meat
- Many processed foods including cold cut meats
- French fries
- Soy sauce
Lastly, here’s a list of foods or products that might contain gluten:
- Food flavorings are more often than not gluten-free, however, in very rare instances, some flavorings may contain barley or wheat. Legally, food flavoring containing wheat must be labeled accordingly. Flavoring with barley is typically labeled as “malt flavoring.”
- Modified food starch is usually gluten-free. You can spot the exceptions by looking at the labels. The starch with gluten will usually be labeled as “modified wheat starch.” Also, an obvious indication that it contains wheat is the phrase “includes wheat.”
- Pharmaceuticals and medications might also contain gluten, however, most meds are gluten-free. It should provide you with allergen information on the label, but if not, you can always check with your pharmaceutical provider to ensure your meds are free from gluten.
- Processed cheese, such as “spray cheese,” may also contain gluten. However, you need not worry about real cheese, as it is free of gluten.
- Seasoning mixes might contain gluten, but it’s required by law that the seasoning mix labels say if the seasoning contains wheat.
- Lipsticks, lip balms, or lip glosses may contain gluten and cause issues if unintentionally digested
So, what foods are left?
Although it may seem like this eliminates many food options, there still are so many delicious choices you can enjoy! A traditional Paleo diet is inherently gluten-free and is a great starting place for anyone with celiac disease. Have questions about Paleo? Check out our starter guide and food list.
All of the following foods are gluten-free and safe to eat for someone with celiac disease:
- Beans and legumes (not paleo)
- Milk (dairy is not paleo)
- Grass-fed butter (primal, not paleo)
- Grass-fed real cheese (primal, not paleo)
- Vegetable oils (canola included) (not paleo)
- Fresh fruits (fresh, frozen, and canned)
- Fresh vegetables (fresh, frozen, and canned)
It’s worth specifically noting that not all grains contain gluten. There are many grains & starches that are gluten-free and safe to eat. These include:
- Corn (all forms) such as corn meal, corn flour, grits, etc.
- Rice (all forms) such as brown, white, enriched, and basmati
- Buckwheat (kasha)
- Nut flours (coconut, almond, etc.)
How to adopt a gluten-free diet
First things first, you have to educate yourself on all things gluten. Know the ins-and-outs of what’s safe for you to eat and what ingredients you need to avoid. Sticking to the basics in the beginning (think of the Paleo diet) might be a great way for you to adjust to a gluten-free lifestyle.
Read food labels
Learn how to read your food labels. Always look for the words “gluten-free”. Any food with this phrase has been tested and proven free of gluten and is safe to eat. That being said, just because a package doesn’t proclaim that it’s gluten-free doesn’t mean that it’s filled with gluten. This is why it’s important to learn what specific ingredients have gluten in it.
Some products may use the phrase “no gluten-containing ingredients.” Be wary of this. This means that none of the ingredients in the final product contain gluten, but it hasn’t been tested and cross contamination may be an issue.
It is ALWAYS smart to read through the ingredients list and be on the lookout for anything that could cause a reaction. If a product contains wheat, the manufacturer is required to list this in the allergen warning. You can find the allergens listed under the main ingredients list. Unfortunately, barley and rye are not required to be listed in the allergen section, but can be found in the ingredients list. Look carefully.
Better safe than sorry
Some products, especially grain-based ones like cereals, may have a label that reads “may contain gluten” or “made on shared equipment.” This means that these products haven’t been specifically tested for gluten and may be cross contaminated. According to the Celiac Foundation, it only takes ⅛ of one teaspoon of gluten to cause a reaction in someone with celiac disease, so the risk is never worth it.
NEVER be afraid to ask the manufacturer questions! That is your right as a consumer and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
This is the “diet” section of our celiac guide series. Check out the other installments below:
- The Ultimate Guide to Celiac Disease
- Symptoms of Celiac Disease
- Testing for Celiac Disease
- Treatment for Celiac Disease
- Awareness of Celiac Disease
- Celiac Disease & Our Anatomy
- Celiac Disease & Weight Gain
- Celiac Disease & Alcohol
- Celiac Disease FAQ
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