Gluten-free diets are on the rise in popularity due to the increasing numbers of people affected with celiac disease, wheat allergies and gluten intolerance. They are also being used as a weight loss tool and to improve a myriad of health issues. The foundation of a gluten-free diet is avoiding a specific protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Starting a gluten-free diet usually means changing almost everything you eat, from your breakfast cereal to the beer you drink.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune/malnutrition disorder. When someone with this disease consumes gluten it triggers an immune system response that damages the intestines and causes absorption problems. Whereas wheat allergy (which is one of the top eight most common allergies) causes an allergic reaction, gluten intolerance is similar to lactose intolerance.
A gluten-free diet eliminates most processed and pre-packaged foods. This leads people to believe that the diet is inherently healthy, which is not necessarily true. Gluten-free can be healthy if executed properly.
First, let’s explore foods that are naturally gluten-free:
-Meat, poultry and seafood
-Beans, nuts and legumes
-Potatoes, rice, corn, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat
Foods that contain gluten:
-Cookies, cakes and baked goods
Besides being in wheat, barely and rye, gluten can be hidden in the following food types:
-Sauces (e.g., soy sauce, teriyaki sauce)
-Oats (if not certified gluten-free they can be cross-contaminated)
If you follow a gluten-free diet due to an illness, it is important to read all labels carefully every time you shop. This is very important, since manufacturers can and do change ingredients.
If you review the list of naturally gluten-free foods, the diet seems healthy. But eliminating whole grain bread products can actually cause a nutrition problem. Wheat-based breads and cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Their gluten-free counterparts might not offer the same values. Gluten-free specialty items often contain more salt and sugar than their wheat-based counterparts. Baking at home is a good remedy for this, since you can control the recipes you use and the amounts of unhealthy ingredients.
It is important when choosing a gluten-free diet to consult a nutritionist to ensure your diet remains well-balanced and nutrient rich. Those with celiac disease may also need to take supplements, as this diet can cause poor absorption of certain vitamins and minerals.
It is possible to lose weight on a gluten-free diet. Eating whole foods in proper proportions accompanied by an exercise routine should yield good results. As with any diet balance, education and commitment are necessary. Eliminating gluten (and not just replacing pre-processed foods with gluten-free alternatives) cuts out excess fats, oils, and additives, which leads to a healthier lifestyle.
As always, it is important to discuss any change in diet with a physician, especially if you think you are affected with a gluten-related illness.