It wasn’t that long ago that the gluten-free diet became popular or even recognizable to the general public. There were very few options available, and even fewer that were appetizing. Today, the gluten-free lifestyle is all the rage – there are hundreds of blogs, recipe pages, and websites dedicated to living happily gluten-free. The gluten-free scene has changed dramatically from just a few years ago.
Although just 1% of the population worldwide, including three million Americans, has celiac disease, and an estimated 6-7% of the population suffers from gluten sensitivity, a recent study showed that approximately 30% of the U.S. population is actively trying to avoid gluten. The gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, but there is not enough research to determine its benefits or consequences for people without these conditions. Before going gluten-free, it’s important to get tested for celiac disease. You can learn more about screening and diagnosis of celiac disease here. If you have already decided to remove gluten from your diet, here are some important things to keep in mind:
- Avoiding gluten does not have to be tasteless or boring. There are plenty of healthy and delicious foods that are naturally gluten-free, including: meats, fish and seafood, eggs, chicken and turkey, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, rice, potatoes, and corn, among many others.
- The gluten-free diet will not necessarily help you lose weight. For those with celiac disease, you may actually gain weight on the gluten-free diet because your intestines will start to heal and you will begin absorbing nutrients again. Furthermore, gluten-free substitutes for breads, pastas, cookies, pizzas, etc. are sometimes higher in fat and sugar content compared to their gluten-filled counterparts. A one-to-one replacement of gluten-containing carbohydrates with gluten-free carbohydrates will not lead to weight loss. Gluten-free junk food is still junk food.
- Wine and distilled alcohol is gluten-free, but beer is not. Distilled alcohol does not contain any harmful gluten peptides even if it is made from gluten-containing grains. Research indicates that the gluten peptide is too large to carry over in the distillation process, leaving the resulting liquid gluten-free.
- Gluten can be hidden in unexpected places. Foods like soy sauce, licorice, dressings, sauces, gravies, and more all contain gluten. Be sure to read the ingredients label on every packaged food item you buy.
- Your friends and family may pester you about your gluten-free diet. Perhaps because of the gluten-free fad, well-meaning friends or family members may not understand if you need to give up gluten for medical reasons. Their comments and questions might irk you, especially if they center on what you’re missing or questions implying there’s nothing for you to eat. When dining at others’ homes, bring a dish to share so that you know there will be something safe for you to eat. And always keep non-perishable snacks in your bag or car so that you won’t go hungry.
- If a product is labeled “gluten-free,” it is safe for someone with celiac disease. The gluten-free label ensures the product does not contain more than 20 parts per million of gluten, which is the safe threshold of gluten consumption for people with celiac disease.
- The gluten-free diet might lead to deficiencies. A gluten-free diet might lead to a decline in your amino acids, B vitamins, and iron levels due to a lack of fortified foods However, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, protein, legumes, quinoa, and gluten-free whole grains, like buckwheat and millet, should include more than enough fiber, iron, amino acids, and B vitamins to make up for this. Check in with your healthcare provider to make sure you’re getting all of the necessary nutrients and vitamins from your diet.
- Wheat-free does not mean gluten-free. A food labeled as “wheat-free” might still contain rye or barley, which means the product is not gluten-free.
If you’re looking for a delicious variety of gluten-free foods, check out Celiac Disease
Foundation’s Gluten-Free Allergy-Free Marketplace!