Should You Adopt a Gluten-Free Diet?

Registered Dietician

| 5 min read

Gluten-free bread
Gluten-free diets are being talked about everywhere nowadays, with celebrities often touting the benefits. A gluten-free diet is the prescribed diet for those diagnosed with celiac disease, but people commonly mistake it fora weight loss program.

Gluten is good for you

A gluten-free diet is not meant as a diet for weight loss, it is a treatment for people with celiac disease. Gluten is actually good for the body because it is found in whole grain foods, which provide us with many nutrients and are a great source of fiber.
When people go on a gluten-free diet because they want to lose weight, they are actually doing a disservice to their body. Dietary guidelines for Americans recommend that we consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed. This is a goal of about 25-35 grams of fiber per day. Fiber helps keep us full and regular, along with keeping our hearts healthy.
As always, remember balance and moderation with any foods that you choose. If you think that you may have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, see your doctor so they can run the proper tests and blood work to diagnose you. Remember that knowledge is half the battle, so stay informed and active in taking care of yourself.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing nutrients from food that are important for staying healthy. This is also known as sprue or a gluten intolerance; milder cases can be called a gluten sensitivity. The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye and possibly oats.
When diagnosed with celiac disease the recommendation is for patients to avoid consumption of any foods that have gluten, which is mostly found in whole grain starches.
Celiac disease should be diagnosed by your physician with a blood test. One in 133 Americans suffer from celiac disease. There is some evidence that this condition is hereditary. It is more prevalent in Caucasians, and women seem to be more commonly affected than men. The onset of celiac disease can occur anytime from infancy to adulthood and is typified by symptoms including abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea and decreased appetite.

How to follow a gluten-free diet

Gluten is a protein found in wheat products. It’s used in many processed foods as an additive to help with flavor, stabilize the product or a serve as a thickening agent. As an additive you will see gluten listed as dextrose, dextrine or maltodextrine — ingredients that can be found in a lot of different foods.
If you want to eat a gluten-free diet, avoid food and drinks containing:
  • Barley
  • Bulgur
  • Durham
  • Farina
  • Graham flour
  • Kamut
  • Matzo meal
  • Rye
  • Semolina
  • Spelt (a form of wheat)
  • Triticale
  • Wheat
You should also avoid the following foods unless they’re labeled “gluten-free” (also, check the label to see that they’re processed in a facility that is free of wheat or other contaminating products):
  • Beers
  • Breads
  • Candies
  • Cakes and pies
  • Cereals
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Croutons
  • Gravies
  • Imitation meats or seafood
  • Oats
  • Pastas
  • Processed luncheon meats
  • Salad dressings
  • Sauces (including soy sauce)
  • Self-basting poultry
  • Some soups (check the ingredients especially for the gluten additive names)
Certain grains, especially oats, can be contaminated with wheat during growing and production. It’s not clear whether oats are harmful for most people with celiac disease, but doctors generally recommend avoiding oats unless they are specifically labeled gluten-free. Pure oat products are even in question for those with celiac.
As I mentioned earlier, there are many other products that may contain gluten. These include:
  • Food additives, such as malt flavoring, modified food starch and others; it can be listed on the food label as dextrose, dextrine or maltodextrine
  • Lipstick and lip balms
  • Medications and vitamins that use gluten as a binding agent
  • Play Doh or clay
  • Toothpaste
If you have celiac disease, it is very important to read food labels carefully and be aware of cross contamination. For example, if someone is using mayonnaise, which is gluten free, but spreads it on whole wheat bread and then puts the knife back into the mayo jar, this could easily contaminate the mayonnaise with gluten.
Allowed foods
There are still many basic foods allowed in a gluten-free diet. With all foods, check to see if it is gluten-free.
Grains and starches allowed in a gluten-free diet:
  • Amaranth
  • Arrowroot
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn
  • Cornmeal
  • Gluten-free flours (rice, soy, corn, potato, bean)
  • Hominy grits
  • Polenta
  • Pure corn tortillas
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Tapioca
Other gluten-free foods include:
  • Fresh meats, fish and poultry (not breaded, batter-coated or marinated)
  • Fruits
  • Most dairy products
  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Vegetables
  • Wine and distilled liquors, ciders and spirits
There are many different gluten-free products on the market now. You can find them at specialty grocery stores and online, even local grocery stores are carrying them.
In the end, the goal is be healthy and to know your body, so you can do what is right for you. So listen to your body and be sure to have a physical annually and ask questions.
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Photo credit: Stephen Barnes

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