Gluten-free – to be or not to be?

What’s The Deal With Gluten?

Gluten-free products are getting lots of attention lately, and more and more gluten-free products are popping up on store shelves. Is gluten-free eating a fad diet or is there more to this gluten-free trend?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). It is found mainly in foods but may be in other products like medicines, vitamins and supplements, lip balm, and even the glue on stamps and envelopes.

Is gluten bad for you? For most people, not necessarily. But for people with Celiac Disease, gluten can be dangerous. Celiac Disease is an immune disease in which people can’t eat gluten because it triggers a serious autoimmune response in the digestive system, can damage the small intestine and keep it from absorbing nutrients. The disease affects each person in different ways. Symptoms may occur in the digestive system, or in other parts of the body. One person might have diarrhea and abdominal pain, while another person may be irritable or depressed. Irritability is one of the most common symptoms in children. Some people have no symptoms.

According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), more than 2 million people in the U.S. have the disease. That equates to about 1 in 133 people. Celiac disease is genetic and is more common among people with other genetic disorders, including Down syndrome or Turner syndrome. Blood tests can help your doctor diagnose the disease. Your doctor may also need to examine a small piece of tissue from your small intestine. Treatment is a diet free of gluten.

People may think that gluten-free automatically means the food is good for you. That is not always the case. To make gluten-free food taste good, the ingredients used may not be healthy alternatives. Be sure to carefully read gluten-free product labels.

 

Eating Gluten-Free
If you are gluten intolerant or just want to give gluten-free eating a try, check out these gluten-free tips and foods.

Eating From Home

1. When starting a gluten-free diet don’t automatically run to the store in search of gluten-free products. Take a look at the food in your home. Many items may already be gluten-free.

2. Plan your meals and snacks in advance.

3. Make a shopping list to help you stay focused on gluten-free foods.

4. Think about how to prepare the food ahead of time to avoid contaminating your food with gluten, especially if other members of your household eat foods that contain gluten.

Eating Out

1. Visit a restaurant’s website to review the menu; you may find a gluten-free section.

2. Call the restaurant manager or chef to ask about preparing gluten-free options.

3. Identify yourself to the waitstaff as a person who cannot eat gluten.

4. Ask about ingredients and how the food is prepared.

Gluten-Free Foods

More and more brands are hitting the shelves with gluten-free products, but remember that there are lots of naturally gluten-free foods too.

  • Dark leafy greens and crunchy vegetables: artichokes, peas, sweet corn, potatoes, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrots, broccoli, turnip greens, green beans
  • Gluten-free grains and flours: amaranth, brown rice, or buckwheat
  • Legumes: lentils, beans, pinto, garbanzo/chick peas, kidney, navy, white, or soy
  • Seeds and nuts: flax seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds with skins, pecans, pumpkin, walnuts, pistachio, hazelnut
  • Oranges, grapefruit, apples, bananas
  • Fresh berries with skins and seeds: blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries
  • Fresh beef, pork, poultry, fish and eggs

 

Having the support of friends and family members may help as you adjust to your new eating habits. And, as always, consult your doctor before making major changes to your diet.

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