My entire life, I would often end the day with belly that looked like it belonged to someone at least 4 months pregnant. Ugh. It really didn't make me want to go out, or put my jeans on. I still go through life preferring to wear tights and dresses because I remember this phase of my life. And it happens still, but now I know why: I'm sensitive to gluten.
So, let’s talk gluten. What is it? Gluten is a component of the grains wheat, rye and barley. If your body is intolerant of gluten, it’s actually reacting to gliadin, a protein within gluten. Severity of this intolerance ranges from a mild gluten sensitivity, to full-blow celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder where your body basically attacks itself every time you eat gluten. In the short-term, sensitivities and celiac can translate into constantly feeling bloated, fatigued, irritated, foggy, or constipated, among over 300 (you read that right!) other symptoms, or it can mean having no noticeable symptoms whatsoever. In the long-run, it can mean the slow flattening and deterioration of your small intestine’s nutrient-absorbing villi, which translates to passing up nutrients that your body REALLY needs and reabsorbing toxins, leading to inflammation, deficiencies, other autoimmune diseases, and infertility. Not fun.
It’s estimated that 1 in 133 people in the U.S. are genetically predisposed to celiac, and about 18 million others are suffering from a gluten sensitivity. The worst part is that MOST of these people are walking around undiagnosed or even misdiagnosed with another disease or issue! Oh, and it runs in families. So, if a family member has one or the other, chances are you do too, even if your symptoms are totally different. Have I piqued your interest yet? If you’ve been feeling yucky, or I’ve planted a seed of doubt, take this short quiz from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness to figure out if it’s worth a trip to your doctor to get tested for celiac disease.
Unfortunately, those with just a gluten sensitivity (after having eliminated celiac as a possibility, of course) can’t get clinically diagnosed simply for the fact there is no test for it yet. This makes it that much more important for you to listen to your body and to be your own health advocate.
So, tell me, why should I go gluten free?
The good news is that the harmful effects of a sensitivity can be completely reversed with a gluten-free diet because of your body’s remarkable ability to heal, and you may start to feel it immediately. An elimination diet can be an important way for you to figure out if you have a sensitivity to gluten, simply by seeing how you feel after you’ve taken it out of your diet. I have clients who, after going gluten-free for just a week, have woken up feeling refreshed, as if a cloud has been lifted, and others who have completely reversed their headaches, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, irritability, or whatever was ailing them. Many pounds have been lost simply by going off gluten since it forces to avoid some of the most fattening, processed foods. Everyone, however, is different.
One reason why you might want to go gluten free, is if you have any thyroid issues, digestive issues, or your children are having behavioral issues and attention deficit issues at school, it could be worth taking out gluten and seeing if things improve. Many people find that it helps.
We do however, need to know what foods and food products contain gluten.
Take a look at this list of foods that contain gluten. Does anything surprise you?
- Beer, ale
- Broth, bouillon powder/cubes
- Brown rice syrup
- Commercial soups and salad dressings
- Breads, cereals, pastas
- Imitation seafood
- Cakes, pies, cookies
- Processed meats
- Soy sauce
- Wheat starch
- Mac and cheese
- Marinades, gravies
- Rye-containing products
- Vegetarian meat substitutes
- Flavored rice-packaged products
Alternatively, here is a list of gluten-free foods (assuming they have not been contaminated with gluten during processing and are free of gluten-containing ingredients).
- Fruits and vegetables
- Dried beans
- Cassava, millet
- Grits, corn, cornmeal
- Oatmeal (gluten-free- Bob’s Red Mill is certified gluten free)
- Fresh meats, fish
- Rice, wild rice
- Nuts and seeds
- Cheese (not processed)
Do you see a trend?
In general, the more processed a food is, the higher the likelihood that it will have an ingredient that contains gluten or an ingredient that has been cross-contaminated with gluten-containing grains. So if you’re identifying with any of these symptoms, and want to explore whether gluten could be at the root of your ailment, here are some ground rules to eating a gluten-free diet.
Ground Rules for a Gluten Free Diet
1. Avoid gluten-containing foods, the obvious and the not-so-obvious. Clearly, anything with wheat, barley, rye is off-limits. But did you know that pasta, couscous and seitan are derivatives? Malt vinegar? Here is a great article identifying ingredients to look for on packages when you’re out shopping:
2. Focus on foods that are naturally gluten-free! There is NO shortage of nutritious, filling foods here that you already love, and your body will thank you. Just because a package says gluten free does NOT mean it’s healthy….it still could be incredibly processed. Read the labels!
Quinoa, rice, potatoes, and vegetables are perfectly safe. If wheat flour was previously a pantry staple, you’ll be happy to know there are a ton of natural alternatives:
- almond meal flour
- coconut meal flour
- pea flour
- potato flour
- garbanzo bean flour
3. At the supermarket, look for items that are certified Gluten-Free with an accredited label. Just because an item is labeled wheat-free doesn’t mean it’s necessarily gluten-free, so be an educated shopper! Thankfully, there are several organizations out there that take it upon themselves to certify products, more so in recent years.
The NFCA highly endorses the Canadian-based GFCP for their process, whose symbol looks like this:
4. Download your free copy of this comprehensive gluten-free diet guide from the NFCA here:
5. Check out online gluten-free recipe blogs! There are SO many, and you can shop around to find your favorites. Here is a great list compiled by thekitchn.com:
Try it for a week. You’ll find yourself eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, fish, beans and legumes. Whole foods! You won’t be hungry, and your late-night delivery pizza cravings just may disappear (which is a good thing, regardless). It will also take practice reading labels and finding gluten-free alternatives to your favorite foods, but once you get the hang of it and realize how much better you feel, you’ll wonder how you ate any other way. Source: Brown, Judith E. (2011) Nutrition Through the Life Cycle. Belmont. Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Source: Brown, Judith E. (2011) Nutrition Through the Life Cycle. Belmont. Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Contributing writer: Duaa Elnoory for The Nourished Belly
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