There is a big trend to go gluten-free right now. Chances are, you or someone you know is trying to follow a gluten-free diet. But, what’s all the hype about, anyway? Is a gluten-free diet something everyone should follow? Why do people go gluten-free?
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? The original reason for going on a gluten-free diet is to treat celiac disease. “Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide. Two and one-half million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for developing long-term health complications” (Celiac Disease Foundation).
The medical community will tell you that you only need to go gluten-free if you have been diagnosed with Celiac disease. Many people, however, seem to be sensitive to gluten. They get symptoms such as diarrhea, stomach pain, bloating, vomiting, fatigue and irritability when they ingest gluten, even without a diagnosis of Celiac.
Other people may go gluten free because they hear it is a great way to lose weight or they like to follow the latest trend. Whatever your reason is for going gluten-free, here is what you need to know to get started!
First, you need to know what gluten is in order to avoid it. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and a cross between wheat and rye called, triticale. If you have Celiac, you need to eliminate these sources of gluten completely, no exceptions! If you are going gluten free for other reasons, you don’t have to be as strict about it.
These days, there are many gluten-free alternatives found in your local grocery store. Even a few years ago, that wasn’t the case. One advantage to the “trendiness” of going gluten-free is that major food companies are making gluten-free options and the prices continue to decrease. Some things have always been gluten-free, but companies are taking advantage of the trend to re-label them as such. For example, potato chips and rice breakfast cereal.
One thing you want to be careful of, is the grains and flours that you may not know have gluten in them. Examples of flours that have gluten are Durum flour, Farina, Graham flour, Semolina, Kamut and Spelt. You need to avoid all food and drinks containing barley, wheat, rye, triticale, malt, malt flavoring and malt vinegar.
Now that we’ve talked about what you can’t have, let’s talk about what you can have! There are many substitutes for flours and grains containing gluten. Here is a list of the major flours and grains that are gluten-free:
- Corn and cornmeal
- Gluten-free flours (rice, soy, corn, potato, bean)
- Hominy (corn)
You can also have flours made from nuts. One of my favorites is almond flour. Coconut flour is another good choice. Most grocery stores have a gluten-free section where you can buy gluten-free flours and flour mixes. I like using these mixes because the combinations of flours are made to give you a flour that bakes up more like flours with gluten. You may have to experiment to see what works best for different recipes. Although the almond flour I use does not rise, it makes a heavy, dense cake that is perfect for desserts.
Most doctors and dietitians recommend avoiding oats, too, as they are often contaminated by gluten during the growing stage. You can use oats that are labeled gluten-free, though. You need to be careful with drinks, too. Beer has gluten (unless labeled otherwise), so do many candies and medicines. You need to be a gluten sleuth, checking labels of everything you put into your mouth! Check salad dressings, soups, flavored rice mixes, gravies, processed luncheon meats, sauces, imitation meats and seafood.
In the beginning, it can seem very overwhelming to go gluten free, but after awhile, it will be second nature to you! It always helps to focus on all the good foods you can have, rather than focusing on what you can’t have. Ask your family or a friend to try going gluten-free with you, having support from others helps you stay committed and it can be fun to try new recipes with someone else.