Many people feel the Gluten-Free Diet is a fad. For people with Celiac disease it makes a huge impact on their health.
People with celiac disease who eat a gluten-free diet experience fewer symptoms and complications of the disease. People with celiac disease must eat a strictly gluten-free diet and must remain on the diet for the remainder of their lives.
There are often questions about what you can eat on a gluten free diet.
Gluten-free diet: What’s allowed, what’s not
A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes the protein gluten. Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye).
Initially, following a gluten-free diet may be frustrating. But with time, patience and creativity, you’ll find there are many foods that you already eat that are gluten-free and you will find substitutes for gluten-containing foods that you can enjoy.
Switching to a gluten-free diet is a big change and, like anything new, it takes some getting used to. You may initially feel deprived by the diet’s restrictions. However, try to stay positive and focus on all the foods you can eat. You may also be pleasantly surprised to realize how many gluten-free products, such as bread and pasta, are now available. Many grocery stores sell gluten-free foods including the Co-ops, Whole Foods, and many other national grocery stores. A local Co-op or natural foods store will most likely have the largest variety and the foods are often labeled right on the shelf next to the price.
Many healthy and delicious foods are naturally gluten-free:
- Beans, seeds, nuts in their natural, unprocessed form
- Fresh eggs
- Fresh meats, fish and poultry (not breaded, batter-coated or marinated)
- Fruits and vegetables
- Most dairy products
It’s important to make sure that they are not processed or mixed with gluten-containing grains, additives or preservatives. Many grains and starches can be part of a gluten-free diet:
- Corn and cornmeal
- Gluten-free flours (rice, soy, corn, potato, bean)
- Hominy (corn)
Avoid all food and drinks containing:
- Barley (malt, malt flavoring and malt vinegar are usually made from barley)
- Triticale (a cross between wheat and rye)
Avoiding wheat can be challenging because wheat products go by numerous names. Consider the many types of wheat flour on supermarket shelves — bromated, enriched, phosphated, plain and self-rising. Here are other wheat products to avoid:
- Durum flour
- Graham flour
Avoid unless labeled ‘gluten-free’
In general, avoid the following foods unless they’re labeled as gluten-free or made with corn, rice, soy or other gluten-free grain:
- Cakes and pies
- Cookies and crackers
- French fries
- Imitation meat or seafood
- Processed luncheon meats
- Salad dressings
- Sauces, including soy sauce (something to keep in mind when ordering at an Asian restaurant. Most sauces are made with a soy sauce base)
- Seasoned rice mixes
- Seasoned snack foods, such as potato and tortilla chips
- Self-basting poultry
- Soups and soup bases
- Vegetables in sauce
Certain grains, such as oats, can be contaminated with wheat during growing and processing stages of production. For this reason, doctors and dietitians generally recommend avoiding oats unless they are specifically labeled gluten-free.
You should also be alert for other products that you eat or that could be ingested that may contain gluten. These include:
- Food additives, such as malt flavoring, modified food starch and others
- Medications and vitamins or supplements that use gluten as a binding agent
- Play dough
Watch for cross-contamination.
Cross-contamination occurs when gluten-free foods come into contact with foods that contain gluten. It can happen during the manufacturing process, for example, if the same equipment is used to make a variety of products. Some food labels include a “may contain” statement if this is the case. But be aware that this type of statement is voluntary. You still need to check the actual ingredient list. If you’re not sure whether a food contains gluten, don’t buy it or check with the manufacturer first to ask what it contains. As mentioned previously, a very common food that is often cross-contaminated is oats. They are often shipped in the same trucks and containers that have contained wheat in the past and aren’t cleaned between shipments. It’s important to buy only oats and oatmeal labeled gluten free to be certain.
Cross-contamination can also occur at home or in restaurants if foods are prepared on common surfaces or with utensils that weren’t thoroughly cleaned after being used to prepare gluten-containing foods. Using a common toaster for gluten-free bread and regular bread is a major source of contamination, for example. Consider what steps you need to take to prevent cross-contamination at home, school or work. Many restaurants now have gluten free menus but very few have a completely gluten free kitchen area. Check with the server at the restaurant or the manager to find out what their protocols are for avoiding cross contamination.
Not sticking to the gluten-free diet:
If you accidentally eat a product that contains gluten, you may experience abdominal pain and diarrhea. Some people experience no signs or symptoms after eating gluten, but this doesn’t mean it’s not damaging their small intestines. For people with Celiac disease trace amounts of gluten in your diet may be damaging, whether or not they cause signs or symptoms. There are digestive enzymes specifically designed to help break down the gluten protein and help you digest it without it causing as much damage or symptoms. It can be a good idea to carry it with you when eating out or somewhere you are not certain about.
Individuals who continue to have digestive issues should consider a gluten-free diet. Other ways you can support your digestive system is by adding a probiotic or digestive support supplement to your diet.
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Dr. Ron Ledoux is a licensed Chiropractor from the midwest who has been practicing since 2001. He’s also certified in clinical nutrition and has extensive training in nutritional therapies and is enthusiastic about educating and offering natural health care to his patients and the community.