Who should avoid gluten?
Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley, rye, and hybrids of those grains. Among the 85 foods you can eat on a gluten-free diet include quinoa, millet, potatoes, beef, chicken, beans, milk, yogurt, and others.
Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley, rye, and hybrids of those grains. Food companies add gluten to many processed foods to:
- Increase protein
- Add texture
- Bind ingredients together
- Add flavor
Many people believe that gluten-free foods are healthy choices for everyone, but whole grains that contain gluten are highly nutritious. Unless you have certain health conditions, there is no reason to avoid gluten.
Most people who should avoid grains with gluten have one of two conditions: celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Celiac disease. This autoimmune disorder affects about 1% of the population, although many people are undiagnosed or wrongly diagnosed. The body sees gluten as a toxin and attacks it in the small intestine. Avoiding gluten is the main treatment.
Gluten sensitivity. Some people do not have celiac disease but feel sick after eating gluten. Symptoms include:
There is no test for gluten sensitivity. If you think gluten might cause your symptoms, you can try an elimination diet. This involves removing many foods from your diet, including those with gluten. You then add them back into your diet one at a time and watch for symptoms.
How to avoid gluten
Avoiding gluten isn't easy. If you have celiac disease, you may need to work with your doctor or a nutritionist. Many products contain hidden gluten. So, become a label reader. In the United States, if a product contains wheat, it will be on the label. No warning is required for barley or rye, so you'll need to check the ingredients for those items.
Food companies often process different grains in one facility. Your gluten-free grain may be contaminated with dust or residue from grains that contain gluten. To be safe, look for products that are labeled gluten-free.
Grains you can eat on a gluten-free diet
For most people, the hardest part of eating gluten-free is replacing wheat and other forbidden grains. The demand for gluten-free foods has led food producers to explore less-known grains and seeds. These are available whole, ground into flour, or in foods such as crackers, pasta, and cereals:
- Quinoa. This ancient grain from South America comes in hundreds of varieties.
- Teff. This grass native to Ethiopia is the smallest grain in the world. Its grains are about one-hundredth the size of a wheat kernel.
- Fonio. Some people consider this ancient grain from Africa the best-tasting grain in the world.
- Millet. Closely related to corn, millet can be eaten whole or ground into flour. The tiny seeds can be red, gray, white, or yellow.
- Amaranth. This broad-leafed plant produces tiny seeds that have been used for food for centuries.
- Buckwheat. Botanically, buckwheat is a fruit, not a grain. The hulled seeds or groats are similar to steel-cut oats.
More familiar replacements for wheat include:
- Rice (white, brown, and black)
Flours and thickeners that you can use instead of wheat flour include:
- Almond flour
- Coconut flour
- Potato flour
- Pea flour
- Soy flour`
Protein sources in a gluten-free diet
It's easy to get your protein on a gluten-free diet. Fresh meats, including poultry and seafood, have no gluten. Be careful about meats that are marinated, glazed, sauced, or breaded. Check the ingredient lists on sausages and on prepared foods like baked beans.
You can get protein from animal products, including:
You can also get protein from plant sources, including:
Dairy products that are gluten-free
Dairy products are naturally gluten-free, but processed dairy products may not be. Read the labels on products such as yogurt, cottage cheese, processed cheese products, and ice cream.
Gluten-free dairy products include:
- Sour cream
- Yogurt (plain)
Because of the great variety of condiments, check ingredients carefully, or look for labels that say gluten-free. The simpler the product, the more likely it is to be gluten-free. Avoid most sauces, marinades, seasoning mixes, bouillon cubes, and similar products.
These condiments are usually gluten-free:
- Jams and jellies
- Vinegars (except malt)
Figuring out which beverages are gluten-free isn't easy. For example, brewed coffee is gluten-free. Flavored coffee drinks may not be. Beware of drinks with malt flavoring, though, which is often made from barley.
Feel free to enjoy:
- Fruit juices (100% juice)
- Herbal tea
- Soft drinks
Most beers, ales, and lagers contain gluten. A few specialty brands, though, are gluten-free. Look for the label.
Most other alcoholic beverages are gluten-free. Gluten-free alcoholic drinks include:
- Distilled alcohols
- Gluten-free beers
- Hard ciders
What about vegetables and fruits?
You can eat fresh produce on a gluten-free diet. You can also eat fruits and vegetables that are canned, dried, frozen, pickled, or juiced. Avoid anything breaded.
There are more vegetables than it is possible to briefly list, but here are some you might not think about:
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- Collard greens
- Winter squash
Similarly, there are too many fruits to list. Don't forget about:
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Is a gluten-free diet healthy?
Studies show that people who do not have celiac disease still buy a lot of gluten-free foods. They sometimes buy them because they think they are healthier. The reverse may be true, though, for these reasons.
- Gluten can act as a prebiotic and feed the good bacteria in the gut.
- If going gluten-free means eating fewer whole grains, your health could suffer. Whole grains are linked to lower cholesterol and triglycerides and lower blood pressure.
- Whole grains contain many vitamins and minerals. Those on a gluten-free diet may not get enough vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Is a gluten-free diet good for weight loss?
You may gain weight on a gluten-free diet, for these reasons:
- Better absorption of nutrients. If a gluten-free diet heals the small intestine, your absorption of nutrients could increase. That could mean a higher caloric intake.
- Reliance on high-calorie foods. Some gluten-free foods are also calorie-dense, especially gluten-free bread and bakery goods. To prevent weight gain, replace foods containing gluten with fruits, vegetables, and compliant whole grains.