What is Gluten?
Gluten is the term for a group proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and einkorn. People with Celiac Disease and NCGS (allergies/sensitivities to gluten) know eating gluten-free is a highly organized and stressful task, because even traces gluten can trigger debilitating gastrointestinal and/or other problems. From personal experience due to a food sensitivity, I know being gluten free is time consuming, expensive and life restricting and can cause quite a burden for those who have to follow it. If I could, I would quit in an instant, and sometimes I envy people a little bit who only doing it because it’s trendy.
But no matter if your reasons are medical or recreational – be aware eating gluten-free is hard work and requires extensive nutritional knowledge.
Gluten-free does not always mean healthy
Many people assume gluten free means healthy, but gluten-free is only healthy if you cook with natural ingredients and prepare meals with wholesome gluten-free flours and grains. If you reach for gluten-free, pre-made baking mixes, pizza, cakes and cookies or eat out every night at gluten free restaurants, you may still consume junk food. Many gluten-free products contain over-processed ingredients, sugar, trans fats, unhealthy starches and other food additives.
“Nutritional terms can be deceiving … I saw people claiming to be Vegans, while living of Coke and french fries. Gluten-free is not a health-label – only when done correctly, it’s beneficial. And only then.”
How to live a healthy gluten free life style
1. Avoid weight gain with a gluten free life style
I often see people gain weight when changing to gluten free, because they now consume starches and types grains they have not before. Popular gluten-free starches such as potato starch, tapioca, corn starch and many more have a very high glycemic index, causing blood sugar levels to raise resulting in cravings, making you a candidate for diabetes or heart disease. Be very selective when selecting gluten free products and read labels carefully, many gluten free products are merely processed foods. If you consume healthy flours and ingredients, a gluten-free life style can benefit your health and support healthy weight management.
2. Substitute for missing nutrients
Make sure to substitute for missing micro nutrients when switching to a gluten-free eating pattern. For example, gluten-containing wheat and grains provide lot’s fiber, folate, niacin, thiamine, iron, calcium, zinc and phosphorous. If you cut them out entirely, seek advise from a professional or acquire the required knowledge on how to make up for them by introducing other foods. Always substitute with whole foods and don’t reach for supplements – cutting out gluten and then making up for it with supplements defeats the purpose a healthy nutritional pattern.
3. Eat natural foods & prepare your food
Gluten-free products are often packed with ingredients to mimic the taste and texture gluten which can raise blood sugar and wreak havoc on metabolism. For example, xantham gum, a food binder, can cause digestive distress in some people and starches can cause weight problems and blood sugar problems. Prepare and cook as much as you can at home and avoid store bought processed foods with the gluten free label. Many of them are full of unhealthy starches, additives, fillers, sugars, GMO’s and chemicals. Try to aim for fresh and organic – make your own pancakes, waffles or bread at home with wholesome, if possible, organic flours and limit eating out. Here are some easy to make, gluten-free recipes, prepared from scratch with high quality ingredients.
4. Get a professional opinion
Cutting out entire food groups is always a step to be taken with caution, especially for children, when pregnant, sick or for elderly people. See a professional before you plan something like it (not only for gluten). Substituting for missing nutrients requires planning, knowledge and a careful approach. Contact me 770.778.3535 for more info, I specialize in gluten-fee lifestyle, cooking, recipes, recipe makeovers, shopping cart assistance and many more.
5. The Gluten-free label does not claim it’s healthy
Since August 2014, the FDA require food makers to meet a 20 parts per million before they can put a gluten-free label on a packaged product. However, the label does not make claims about general food quality, it merely defines Foods labeled “gluten free” cannot contain wheat, barley or rye. Ingredients made from these grains are also largely prohibited, but the gluten-free label can be used if they are processed to remove gluten as long as the final food contains less than 20 ppm. The label does not set standard on food quality (like organic). Read the full article about the gluten-free label.
Grains and flour specifications:
Gluten FREE grains and flours are: Brown & White Rice, Amaranth, Buckwheat, Chickpea flour, Quinoa, Sorghum, Teff, Corn, Amaranth, Mesquite, Corn.
Gluten CONTAINING grains and flours: Wheat, Barley, Rye, Spelt, Einkorn and Oats (some oats are gluten free, you might check the labels)
More about Gluten
Gluten is mainly used in baked goods for a doughy, elastic structure. But it is found in many other foods too today, because it also acts as a thickening agent. Wheat and grass allergens, also known as Gliadin, Lectins (and others) can also cause autoimmune problems in some people.
Gluten Allergy (Celiac Disease)
In people with an allergy, gluten attacks their immune system and inflammation the colon. Over time, the intestines can become damaged, and the body has problems absorbing important nutrients leading to malnourishment and other problems. Symptoms gluten allergy can be abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, mood disorders, skin problems and many more.
Gluten sensitivity (NCGS)
Much worse to diagnose is a gluten sensitivity. Contrary to Celiac Disease, symptoms don’t manifest immediately, but over time gluten causes damage that is often not attributed to gluten. People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) may experience similar symptoms as those with Celiac Disease, but on a much smaller and chronic level, which often leads to misdiagnosis for other diseases. Persistent and recurring cases of eczema, mood disorders, gut problems and symptoms from the Celiac Disease spectrum also occur here.
How to know if you’re gluten intolerant?
If you suspect you are allergic or sensitive to gluten, see a doctor, who will arrange for the necessary tests (genetic and blood markers). Never just assume you have a gluten allergy and cut out entire food groups because a trend. Make sure the lab work includes allergy and sensitivity panels, often, only allergy tests are performed which don’t tell the whole story.