Considering a Gluten-Free Diet? Read this First!

This post was written by our Chief Dietitian, Samantha Mark, RD, CDN

It’s impossible to go anywhere these days without hearing about gluten-free foods. The media, the food industry and even friends and family seem to be jumping on the trend.

So here is the question most people are afraid to ask: What does gluten-free mean?

Well, gluten is the protein in wheat, rye and barley. Gluten-free products use grain flour from a different source (such as rice flour). The FDA says food labeled gluten-free “does not contain an ingredient that is any species of wheat, rye, barley, or a crossbred hybrid of these grains (collectively referred to as “prohibited grains”); an ingredient that is derived from a prohibited grain and that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat flour); an ingredient that is derived from a prohibitive grain and that has been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat starch), if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food; or 20 ppm or more gluten.”

Other foods containing gluten include (but are not limited to): soy sauce, malt vinegar and liquor, and beer. Gluten may also be in certain medications, cosmetics or other various foods, so always check the ingredient list or call a manufacturer if you are unsure.

The gluten-free diet was originally created for people with Celiac Disease, a digestive disorder, according to the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases. When a person with Celiac Disease is exposed to gluten, their immune system destroys the villi in their small intestine (those tiny finger-like projections that aid the absorption of nutrients), which can lead to malnutrition.

Many people with out Celiac also choose to follow a gluten-free diet because they feel it helps improve digestion.

Gluten-free foods include: Fresh fruits and vegetables, plain meat/ fish/ chicken/ eggs. Other safe foods and grains include: flax, potato, quinoa, soy and legumes. Oat products are controversial and should be checked individually.

So is gluten-free the healthier choice for everyone? Not necessarily.

The gluten-free diet is only required for people with Celiac Disease. In the United States our grains are enriched with vitamins and minerals. Gluten-free foods do not always contain those same nutrients.

Also, many gluten-free baked goods may be higher in fat and calories to enhance flavor. And consider fiber. If you choose to follow a gluten-free diet, make sure you still meet your daily fiber needs (fresh fruits and vegetables can help).

As with anything else pertaining to your health, always consult a doctor before beginning any new dietary regimen. In the mean time, if you are looking for a quick, delicious gluten-free meal, give this meal a shot:

Cook one cup of black beans in olive oil with a bit of finely chopped garlic and white onion. Add this to a cup of cooked quinoa (full of protein and fiber), top with fresh tomatoes, cilantro and fat-free sour cream. Enjoy!

Until next time,

Sammi

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2 thoughts on “Considering a Gluten-Free Diet? Read this First!

  1. A gluten-free diet is used to treat celiac disease. Gluten causes inflammation in the small intestines of people with celiac disease. Eating a gluten-free diet helps people with celiac disease control their signs and symptoms and prevent complications. ^

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  2. Switching to a gluten-free diet is a big change and, like anything new, it takes some getting used to. You may initially feel deprived by the diet’s restrictions. However, try to stay positive and focus on all the foods you can eat. You may also be pleasantly surprised to realize how many gluten-free products, such as bread and pasta, are now available. Many specialty grocery stores sell gluten-free foods. If you can’t find them in your area, check with a celiac support group or go online. `

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