Your Guide To A Gluten Free Diet
Starting a gluten free diet can often be overwhelming but it doesn’t always have to be. Whatever your reason, with a little work and planning, a gluten-free diet can be easy to follow. This guide will look at some of the basic rules that can help you to be successful in eating gluten-free.
Why Go Gluten Free?
Gluten-free diets have become something of a national obsession in the United States and are increasing in popularity worldwide. Recent figures by a Gallup poll show one in five Americans include gluten free food
For many people, a gluten-free diet is not a free choice but a forced medical necessity. For the growing number of people diagnosed with celiac disease, gluten is their worst enemy. A gluten-free diet is as essential to somebody with celiac disease as insulin is to many diabetics. By avoiding all gluten, a celiac sufferer enables their gut to heal and other symptoms to improve.
Other reasons may include gluten sensitivity or another form of gluten intolerance, an allergy to wheat, or just simply you feel better when avoiding gluten. Some people may decide to try a gluten-free diet to help with weight loss or simply in search of a healthier lifestyle. Both Gwyneth Paltrow and Geri Halliwell are firm advocates of the gluten free diet.
First, the good news:
Which Foods Can You Eat on a Gluten Free Diet?
Going gluten-free is surprisingly not too unlike many traditional healthy diets. You can easily fill your plate with many naturally available wholesome gluten-free foods including vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, seeds, fish and meats.
For those who love their grains, there are still a good deal of gluten-free options available including rice, quinoa, corn, buckwheat and amaranth to name a few. You only have to avoid gluten-containing grains like wheat, barley and rye and oats which may have been stored or processed in a shared facility with gluten-containing grains. You should always look for a “Certified Gluten Free” label which indicates the oats have been grown on dedicated fields and stored in dedicated gluten free silos.
Pure spices, fresh or dried are gluten free, but sometimes may have gluten-containing fillers, it is always advisable to check the packaging. Most baking ingredients are gluten free including pure maple syrup, honey, molasses, sugars, vegetable oils, olive oils, coconut oil, eggs, and beans.
Even alcohol is allowed on a gluten-free diet with most spirits and wines being gluten-free. Hard liquors made from gluten-containing grains like whiskey or bourbon are put through a distilling process which removes nearly all the gluten, as the gluten proteins are too large to pass through the distillation. Hard ciders are also gluten-free and gluten-free beers are available which are distilled in a special brewing process to remove traces of gluten that would otherwise remain after traditional brewing.
What Foods Are Not Gluten Free?
Wheat, barley and rye are the big three that should be avoided at all costs. This includes forms of wheat like spelt, semolina or triticale which is a hybrid of wheat and rye. Any products derived from wheat, barley and rye also include gluten including barley malt in its many forms (malt vinegar, malt syrup, malt flavoring, etc.). Foods that contain wheat can also include traditional soy sauces. Gluten free tamari (often labeled Japanese soy Sauce) is a good alternative.
All conventional flours including all-purpose flour, cake flour, pastry flour, bread flour, semolina flour and 00 flour contain gluten. Anything made with conventional flour should be avoided including breads (including bread crumbs and breaded products), cakes, pies, cookies, crackers, sauces, gravies and conventional pasta. Even communion wafers have gluten in them.
Breakfast cereals unless specifically labeled certified gluten-free can often contain gluten. Corn Flakes are commonly made with barley malt extract, Rice Krispies use a malt flavoring as do Frosted Flakes. General Mills have made recently made all Chex Cereals, apart from Wheat Chex, to a gluten-free recipe in a dedicated gluten-free facility in the US.
Most beers, ales, stouts and lagers contain gluten as they are derived from grains like barley, wheat or malt. Gluten-free beers are now available in the United States and even taste rather good!
Does A Gluten Free Label Always Tell The Truth?
If in doubt whether a product contains gluten, always check the label for the contents. The Food Allergen Labelling and Consumer Protection Act applies to most packaged food sold in the United States. Any food which contains a protein from any of the top eight allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, soy, wheat and Crustacean shellfish) must be either named in the ingredients or a separate “contains” statement near the ingredients.(3)
The conditions of a product labeled as “gluten-free” have been tightened up by the FDA. After August 5, 2014, any product bearing a “gluten-free” label must be inherently gluten-free or not contain any ingredient derived from a gluten-containing grain which has not been processed to remove the gluten to less than 20 parts per million(ppm). Gluten-free labeling is optionally used by manufacturers with many non-labeled products often being gluten free. (4)
It can also be worth checking on the labeling of many products whether the food was produced in a dedicated gluten-free environment to avoid cross contamination. There is no legal requirement for manufacturers to indicate this on their labels but many companies voluntarily indicate whether a product has been processed on the same equipment as wheat or in a separate facility. Research showed up to 41 percent of grains, seeds and flours tested contained more than the allowed quantification of gluten.(5)
How To Start A Gluten Free Diet?
Preparing your kitchen and purchasing a few packaged foods can make sure you are gluten-free from day one. This can be especially important if you are following a gluten-free diet to treat celiac disease.
Cleaning your kitchen thoroughly can help make sure it is gluten-free and avoid cross contamination of previous gluten-containing foods. This may involve disposing of or giving away any gluten-containing packaged foods or any condiments like malt vinegar or soy sauce that contain gluten. Equipment and utensils including a toaster full of bread crumbs or porous cutting or cooking surfaces can often hide gluten. Colanders, muffin tins, sieves and cast iron pans can all harbor residues of sticky gluten.
Purchasing some gluten-free packaged products can stop you feeling deprived of favorite foods in the early days and weeks. Gluten-free breads and pastas can be comforting when first adapting to a gluten free diet. Gluten free baking products can also inspire you to create more gluten-free recipes. You don’t have to be Martha Stewart to make delicious gluten free cakes or cookies.
The Number One Mistake People Make When Starting A Gluten Free Diet
There are more gluten-free products on the shelves of grocery stores than ever before with major food conglomerates like Kellogg’s, General Mills and Nestle looking to cash in on the gluten-free market. With global sales of $3.5 billion, gluten-free is no longer a niche market.(6)
It can be very tempting when first starting out on a gluten-free diet to go to your local grocery store and stock up on many of the “gluten-free” products now available. Many of your favorites may be there like gluten-free macaroni cheese, Sara Lee gluten-free cakes, gluten-free Corn Flakes and even gluten-free pizzas. Unfortunately studies have shown that most of these gluten-free products are an average of 242 percent more expensive than their traditional non-gluten free products.(7)
As well as the financial cost, you may have to consider the calorific cost. Many of these products are made with refined grains and are heavy in sugar so contain more calories than the traditional gluten-containing version. If you are following a gluten-free diet to lose weight this will have exactly the opposite effect. Gluten-free junk food is still junk food, just minus the gluten!
Eating Out at Restaurants
Just because you are on a gluten-free diet doesn’t mean you have to give up your social life. We have already seen that you can drink alcohol, just not most beers, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to enjoy a meal out with friends. Many of the top restaurant chains now offer gluten-free items although they
don’t always guarantee the food to be produced in a gluten-free environment.
Big names including TGI Fridays now offer gluten-free alternatives like a turkey burger which comes on a gluten-free bun. The Cheesecake Factory offers a gluten-free Godiva cheesecake and BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse offer a wide variety of gluten-free items. California Pizza Kitchen even makes their gluten-free pizzas in a different area to their “regular” pizzas and use different takeaway boxes too.
Although most chefs are now trained in gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, it’s always worth asking questions. A celiac friend argues gluten-free training is as common as washing your hands in food safety training now. Ask whether the fries are cooked in the same oil as fried chicken coated in flour? Is the gluten-free pasta cooked in the same water as regular pasta?
Gluten Cross Contamination
People starting on a gluten-free diet, especially with celiac disease, can often be surprised just how little gluten it takes to make you sick. Cross contamination can occur at any stage of food preparation, sometimes in your own home, in a restaurant or even with packaged foods labeled “gluten free”.
Producing whole foods at home in your own kitchen is one of the best ways to avoid gluten cross contamination. You know how clean your kitchen is, what utensils are used and whether any gluten-containing food has been produced in the same area or same oil/water.
A recent study confirmed that avoiding processed foods improved the treatment of celiac disease in people who had previously followed a gluten-free diet to no effect.(8)
Planning is The Key To A Successful Gluten Free Diet
When following a gluten-free diet, shopping is likely to take much longer as you study products more carefully. If you are in a hurry you may sometimes overlook an ingredient that might contain gluten. You may even have to go to different grocery stores or markets to find some your gluten-free products.
Planning meals in advance can also help with a gluten-free diet. There’s nothing worse than arriving home to find an empty kitchen. Just going to the local drive-thru is probably not an option anymore. Keeping gluten-free snacks to hand can stop you making a bad decision which you may regret later.
Getting used to a new way of eating can take work and some extra planning especially when first starting out. Sometimes it can be worth searching out a local gluten-free support group or even looking for online support. Sharing information and experiences can often be helpful. If a gluten-free diet is for medical issues like celiac disease, a registered dietitian can help you draw up a healthy eating plan.
A life without bread, beer, pizza and cakes may not sound too appealing but once you understand the basic rules of avoiding gluten, a gluten-free diet can be quite easy to follow. You don’t necessarily have to miss out on your favorite foods, you just have to learn to say “no” to gluten. You can still enjoy that burrito as it’s made from naturally gluten-free masa harina, just ensure the seasonings are gluten-free too.
This is the gluten free diet guide. Check out the other installments below:
- Gluten Intolerance vs. Celiac (What’s the Difference?)
- Gluten Free Food List
- What Does Gluten Free Mean?
- What Is Gluten?
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