Whether you’re scrolling through Facebook, looking up recipes to make for dinner or flipping through a magazine, you see the words “gluten-free.” Tons of celebrities are posting about it, your co-workers are talking about it and even the old lady down the street is making gluten-free cookies. But are you still wondering what exactly is gluten and why is everyone and their mother making gluten-free recipes?
Well, let us explain…
What is Gluten?
Gluten is the name of a group of proteins that are found mainly in wheat, rye, and barley. The two exact proteins in gluten are called glutenin and gliadin. (The latter of the two are is the protein that people are allergic or sensitive to.)
Gluten is what helps foods keep their shape and acts like a glue – hence the name “gluten.” This is why it is added to so many different food products that you wouldn’t expect but more details on that later…
How does it affect people differently?
Gluten is a high-allergen food and many people can get serious symptoms from eating it.
Celiac disease is the highest form of gluten intolerance and affects about 1% of the population. It is classified as an autoimmune disease – this means that when someone with Celiac disease consumes gluten, the body sees it as an “invader” and will attack the gluten food particles, as well as the gut lining. Symptoms that may arise are digestive upset, bloating, depression, diarrhea, constipation, headache, joint pain, skin rashes and fatigue.
Even if you don’t have Celiac Disease, it is possible to experience negative symptoms from consuming gluten and gluten type foods. This is called a “gluten sensitivity” and symptoms can include bloating, depression, fatigue and digestive upset. About 18 million people report having a non-celiac sensitivity to gluten. Whoa – that’s a lot of gluten-free eaters!
If you suspect having a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, talk to a healthcare professional such as a doctor, naturopath or nutritionist to get the correct type of testing done.
How could somebody who doesn’t have celiac disease, still benefit from limiting or removing gluten from their diets?
Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a gluten allergy or sensitivity, it may be a good idea to remove or limit gluten from your diet.
Gluten can be an irritant to the gut and cause an inflammatory response in the body. This is something you want to avoid because inflammation in the intestines can lead to a weakened gut lining, meaning food particles and unwanted bacteria can leak into the bloodstream. This can cause your immune system to weaken or hinder your body’s absorption of nutrients. If either of these are left untreated long enough, it can lead to chronic illnesses – and no one wants that!
Consuming gluten can also worsen symptoms in people with other digestive diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Some even say that gluten is what gave them IBS!
All this being said, there may be a right and a wrong way of going gluten-free…
Naturally gluten-free foods vs processed gluten-free?
Many gluten-free products are taking over the shelves in grocery and health food stores around us. However, don’t let a packaged food labelled “gluten-free” trick you into thinking it is any better for you than other processed foods. A gluten-free cookie is still a cookie. More often than not, these gluten-free products contain extra processed ingredients and refined sugars to keep the product from falling apart (Remember from above that gluten is a “glue” that holds foods together).
Basically what we are saying is that you shouldn’t go out and buy every gluten-free product you can find!
If you decide to go gluten-free, aim to consume more whole, naturally gluten-free foods such as quinoa, rice, potatoes, buckwheat, millet, amaranth and teff. Remember that all vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, animal proteins (chicken, pork, beef, fish, eggs) are naturally gluten-free foods.
What types of condiments, seasonings and sauces can contain gluten?
If you are new to a gluten-free lifestyle, it is important to know that gluten can be hidden in MANY different foods that you wouldn’t normally think contain wheat or gluten (kind of scary if you ask us…).
Be sure to read all labels before consuming any of the following items:
- salad dressings
- soy sauces
- stir-fry sauces
- meat rubs
- cream sauces
- seasoning/spice mixtures
- food colorings
Key ingredients to avoid for gluten free
When eating completely gluten free, you should avoid white or whole wheat pastas, breads, cereals, baked goods, crackers, oats (oats don’t contain gluten BUT they are processed in a gluten factory), soups, beer (don’t worry – gluten free beer exists!), barley and rye.
Don’t forget about foods like burgers, sausages and hot dogs that normally contain gluten too. Good thing they have lots of gluten-free options out there if you are craving a burger or hot dog. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous you can try some new gluten-free recipes from whole foods.
Can you eat out at restaurants if you’re gluten-free?
YES! More and more restaurants are adding tons of gluten-free options to their menus. Most will say right on it if it contains gluten or not. But always remember to tell your server in case of cross-contamination.
Whenever adapting to a new way of eating, instead of looking at foods you CAN’T eat – try focusing on the foods you CAN eat! Gluten-free recipes are popping up everywhere and don’t need to be boring.
Chicken with Roasted Vegetables
You’ll love this healthy one-pan dish for a weeknight dinner. It’s delicious, nutritious and makes for an easy clean up. Do we need to say more?
Cauliflower Mac & Cheese
Find yourself craving a big ol’ bowl of mac and cheese, but thinking that your new “gluten-free” diet will keep you away from that. Think again! Try out this healthy version of mac and cheese made with cauliflower.
Roasted Italian Mushrooms
This Italian dish won’t have you missing any gluten-filled sides. Vegetable medleys are always a big hit with a crowd so this makes a great option for your next pot luck. Plus vegetables are an awesome way to give your body the necessary nutrients.
Cauliflower Hashbrown Egg Cups
This gluten-free breakfast recipe makes a delicious on-the-go meal that will keep you full for hours. Plus it can be made the night before because who really has tons of extra time in the mornings?
Low Carb Cheeseburger
Don’t worry burger lovers – we got you covered! This is a delicious gluten-free burger recipe that won’t have you missing the bun.
Frozen Chocolate Banana
We can’t forget about our favorite gluten-free dessert! This is one sweet treat that you and your whole family can enjoy.