Some people may think gluten-free foods are trendy. Surely, actors like Gwyneth Paltrow rave about it. Even Chelsea Clinton's wedding cake was free of the “bad” cereal.
Tennis star Novak Djokovic has a gluten-free diet and has felt fitter and more powerful ever since.
More and more people are opting to go gluten-free, supposedly because it's a healthier diet.
But is a gluten-free diet really beneficial to everyone?
Certainly, many popular celebrities who have gone gluten-free have experienced the good side of this diet.
It’s good that more people have become aware of gluten-free products, more restaurants and stores offer gluten-free products that don’t contain gluten.
But not because gluten is unhealthy, but because there are people who suffer from a disease that make it impossible for them to process this substance like the rest.
Although there are more people who voluntarily do without gluten, an alarming number of them don’t even know exactly what gluten is, or why it should be avoided.
Here’s a rundown of the important things you should consider before you transition into a gluten-free diet.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein with special binding properties. It is known as glue or grain protein commonly found in wheat, barley, rye, some oats other types of food one would not expect.
It ensures that the dough sticks together and moisture is retained; binds all other ingredients to a stable structure.
The result: an airy, juicy pastry with a firm texture that stays fresh for a long time.
Without gluten, baking traditional pastries, breads and rolls would be impossible.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, not for some people who don't respond as well to gluten.
Certain components of the glue protein irritate the intestine which results in digestive problems.
For this reason, attempts have been made in recent years to find useful alternatives to foods containing gluten.
How does gluten affect the body?
Consuming gluten triggers inflammation in the small intestine that causes severe abdominal pain, weight loss, vomiting, fatigue, loss of appetite, diarrhea and even depression.
Gluten sensitivity also causes autoimmune disorders like celiac disease; skin disease like dermatitis herpetiformis and neurological disorders like schizophrenia.
How do you know if you are gluten intolerant?
Frequent headaches, abdominal pain, unexplained mood swings and loss of appetite are common signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance or sensitivity to gluten.
The best way to know if you have gluten intolerance is to get tested.
However, according to Dr. Stefano Guandalini, expert on celiac disease and creator of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, there are no current tests specific to non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
“No antibodies in the blood are specific enough, or sensitive enough, for this condition. No antibodies in the stools can be utilized to diagnose or screen for this condition.” - Dr. Guandalini, beyondceliac.org
Preferably, experts recommend getting tested for celiac disease or wheat allergy. If both come out negative, your doctor will start a gluten elimination diet.
Although a negative result doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have gluten intolerance. Improved symptoms may mean you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
A simple blood test can screen for celiac disease, but your diet would have to contain gluten prior to testing.
What are the benefits of a gluten-free diet?
1. Alleviates digestive problems
Bloating, stomach pain, constipation and diarrhea are some common symptoms of gluten intolerance that can be relieved with a gluten-free diet.
Along with other side effects like fatigue, nausea, vomiting and mood swings.
A research conducted by the American Journal of Gastroenterology studied the effects of gluten on adults with non-celiac gluten sensitivity or NCGS.
Everyday, for six weeks, participants were given food containing gluten. They reported symptoms like stomach pain, poor stool consistency, fatigue and bloating worsened.
If you experience these symptoms mentioned above after eating gluten-containing foods, try an elimination diet to rule out if going gluten-free can help you in the long-term.
2. Boosts energy levels
Decreased levels of iron, vitamin D, folic acid, vitamin B12, magnesium and zinc are often observed in patients who don’t follow a celiac diet.
Iron deficiency is common among celiac patients which leads to anemia, fatigue, drowsiness and low energy.
People who suffer from these symptoms are caused by gluten triggering an immune response that causes the immune cells to attack the small intestine.
Over time, the damage to the stomach lining can affect the absorption of certain nutrients, making it difficult to get the right nutrients needed to maintain energy levels.
If this is the case for you, going gluten-free could improve your energy levels, counter brain fog and fatigue caused by gluten.
In a study conducted by the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health of Aberdeen University in the UK, found “that a gluten-free diet improves feelings of fatigue, with participants reporting much higher energy levels during the gluten-free period of the study.” said Dr. Alexandra Johnstone.
Participants consisting of 95 adults (64 women, 31 men) were asked to remove gluten from their diet for 3 weeks and return to their regular diets for the same period of time.
“The fact that they were able to start tasks quicker, concentrate better and think clearer during this time, and felt the need to rest less, all point towards the idea that sensitivity to gluten does exist for some individuals who don't have celiac disease.
It was equally interesting to see that none of participants gained any weight while going gluten-free, in fact our participant's diets improved through increased fiber and vegetable consumption, and reduced salt intake.” - Dr.Johnstone, Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health
3. Beneficial to kids with autism
Autism is a developmental disorder that results to impaired social interaction and communication. It affects people of all ages, but children as young as two can be diagnosed.
Traditional treatment for autism includes using different types of special therapy along with medication.
However, promising new research has shown that eliminating diet gluten can help reduce the symptoms of autism in children.
Just as when Arshad changed his son’s nutritional program to plant-based, dairy and gluten-free.
His son made tremendous progress and was able to focus on his other therapies.
Furthermore, study by the Department of Biobehavioral Health, The Pennsylvania State University, published in Nutritional Neuroscience, found that a strict implementation of a gluten-free, casein-free diet improved “ASD behaviors, physiological symptoms, and social behaviors.”
Other natural treatments for autism include the use of supplements such as fish oil, digestive enzymes and probiotics along with a healthy diet without additives and unprocessed foods.
4. Reduces inflammation
Gluten consumption contributes to widespread inflammation in the body over time.
People with autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis have greater risks of developing celiac disease.
Many inflammation outside the gut manifest through joint pains.
According to Dr. Rochelle Rosian of the Cleveland Clinic, “We know that certain foods are pro-inflammatory, which includes gluten-containing grains and the thousands of foods made from them,” says Rosian.
“When some, but not all, people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity eliminate these from their diet, they may find their arthritis symptoms also improve."
A gluten-free diet can help avoid inflammation and prevent health consequences.
5. Improves IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) symptoms
Many people who have gluten sensitivity also have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), an intestinal disorder that causes gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
As a first line of defense against IBS, a low-FODMAP (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols), IBS diet is often recommended.
This diet consists of short-chain carbohydrates that are not easily digested, but fermented by the bacteria in the intestine.
A decrease of these kinds of foods like grains could help prevent some symptoms of IBS.
5 Ways to Simplify Your Gluten-free Transition
1. Clean up your kitchen
If you’ve decided to go gluten-free for medical reasons, the first thing you need to do is do a quick assessment of your kitchen.
Take out everything that contains gluten from your pantry and fridge and give it away to family, friends, neighbors or donate to charity.
Clean your counter tops and other areas where you used to store your gluten-containing products and get rid of them.
Replace wooden cutting boards with plastic or stainless steel utensils to prevent gluten absorption.
Clean small appliances like a toaster that you used to cook with gluten.
Remember, every crumb of gluten is a contaminant. So, make sure you thoroughly check all foods and areas in the kitchen.
If you live with several people, store all your gluten-free products in a separate cupboard.
2. Learn the basics
In the beginning, shopping will take a lot of time because you would be checking every label and making sure nothing gets past you.
But don’t worry, at some point you will know your products and shopping will be a breeze again.
Don’t get discouraged, you can download the list below and take with you on your next grocery shopping.
3. Inform your family
You need to inform your family and friends of your diet change. Be completely honest and open to them and to yourself.
It’s important that they understand what the change in your diet entails.
4. Join and know organizations, forums and bloggers
Join groups, forums and organizations to get extensive information from fellow members.
These organizations can provide resources for someone with gluten-intolerance like “information on diagnosis and nutrition, details on what you could include and had to avoid on the gluten-free diet, shopping lists, recipes, educational conferences and food shows.” - Cynthia Kupper, CEO of Gluten Intolerance Group
Raising our Celiac Kids (R.O.C.K)
Gluten Free Global Community by Simply Gluten Free
5. Plan ahead
One of the biggest challenges with a gluten-free diet is the planning, which is very important especially when traveling.
Are there any gluten-free options in the hotel or restaurant where my friends want to meet up? Should I take snacks with me on a hike or can I get something on the way?
There’s definitely a gluten-free snack at the movie theater, right?
Going completely gluten-free seems daunting in the beginning.
Surely, any diet change is like this, but once you get through the settling in phase, it will be easier.
Some people may take a month or two to get the hang of things, some may take even a year.
Don’t sweat this out, this is your journey, take your time with it.
Where can we find gluten-free products?
The easiest way to switch to a gluten-free diet is to start by cooking and baking everything yourself at home.
This way, you’ll know exactly what is in your food and you can very quickly get a feel for what you can order when you’re out.
But, nowadays, the market is flooded with products labeled as gluten-free.
Very common are healthy, grab-and-go protein snacks which may be gluten-free but contain little or no nutritive value at all.
If you have gluten intolerance, looking for alternatives to grains and bread can be difficult in the beginning.
But your food choices are not that limited, contrary to what many people think. Dairy products, fish, meat, vegetables and fruits are naturally gluten-free.
How to tell if a product is gluten-free
It’s important to pay attention to natural, clean and wholesome ingredients when choosing gluten-free products.
Many say they’re gluten-free but contain a lot of fillers and more salt.
Cereal mixes, high-protein bars or cakes can contain more sugar and additives as a gluten-free version than the one that actually contains gluten.
Check if there’s a “gluten-free” label. If there’s none, read the labels and ingredients carefully.
When in doubt, ask. Examine questionable looking ingredients that may contain hidden gluten.
Gluten-free snacks you should stock up on
Healthy and filling gluten-free snacking is sometimes difficult to sustain.
Sometimes the actual products don’t deliver their marketing blurbs. But there are some gluten-free snacks that are true to what they’re claiming and are naturally gluten-free.
The best snacks are those free from any additives, preservatives and other harmful ingredients.
You want food to be wholesome and close to raw as possible.
Choose from hearty gluten-free crackers, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, fresh salads and bread sticks.
These are the most obvious and healthiest, naturally gluten-free snack.
First off, bananas. Bananas keep you full for a long time as well as apples and berries.
They’re super delicious and virtually have no calories! Make a fruit salad, smoothie or fruit roll ups to add variety.
Vegetables and salads
Vegetables are diverse and naturally gluten-free. You can easily make gluten-free snacks by tossing together your favorite vegetables into a crisp salad.
You can either make your own snack salad at home or get a finished box from the nearest supermarket.
Most stores now have a fresh salad counter. Or you can make fresh vegetable sticks with a dip.
If you have time to spare, make grilled vegetables, antipasti or vegetable chips yourself and take them to work.
Salads are good on so many levels. But be careful with croutons--these are a no-no.
Also, pay attention to ready-made dressings and toppings.
Nuts and seeds
These are great for snacking, nuts contain very healthy fats and other essential nutrients.
While seeds are excellent sources of fiber and protein. Which makes both very filling and ideal as a snack between meals.
You can also make raw pizza crust or cauliflower crust out of nuts and seeds--they’re delicious and gluten free!
A hearty piece of cheese can be a real treat. Due to its high fat content, a good piece of cheese will make you feel full longer.
Cheese is a dairy product and absolutely gluten-free. Grapes and figs, honey and mustard go well with it, or even chocolate for some types of blue mold.
Gluten-free energy bites
Energy bites made from gluten-free oats and gluten-free flour are a great snack for kids and adults. They’re so easy to make too!
Gluten-free baked goods get crunchy over time. But there are tons of no bake, gluten-free recipes you can find on the internet!
Greek or vegan yogurt or curd cheese are a few of the endless possibilities for a protein-rich snack.
Some of these are refined with fruit and seeds like chia and flax seeds--these saturate excellently.
Many manufacturers have come out with products geared towards gluten-free nutrition.
But be careful, some supermarket gluten-free products contain more sugar or salt than those not labeled gluten-free.
You can make your own granola if you want a nut-free and low sugar snack!
This may be the healthiest snacks on the go!
A mixture of kernels, nuts, seeds and dried fruits and you’re good!
From the classic variant of raisins, cashews, almonds and dried cranberries to tropical mixes with coconut flakes, banana chips, pineapple cubes and dates--the possibilities are endless!
Of course, dried fruits, nuts and seeds are bought individually. But you can save more if you make your own mix, plus you can control how much of your favorite ingredients go in!
This form of snack is healthier than sweets and cookies and will keep you full longer.
Gluten is not found in dried fruits or nuts and seeds.
FREE gluten-free recipe book: FAST, FRESH, GLUTEN-FREE: Transitioning to gluten-free should be a piece of cake!
Is a gluten free diet for everyone?
Gluten intolerance is an illness, not a fad. Though it is not as prevalent as other digestive disorders, it should be taken seriously.
About 3 million Americans have celiac disease and should avoid gluten at all costs. Even those who have extremely rare wheat allergies must avoid gluten.
Additionally, 18 million of the population have gluten sensitivity and should avoid gluten.
Nevertheless, gluten is by no means harmful to healthy people.
As long as there is no intolerance or sensitivity, it is not necessary to switch to gluten-free foods.
In a study by the University of L'Aquila in Italy, published in the US National Library of Medicine, they found that 86% of people who complained about being sensitive to gluten are able to tolerate it.
Going on a gluten-free diet when you don’t need to, may do more harm than good to your health.
GFD may cause nutritional deficiencies, unnecessary financial costs, and negative psychosocial effects.
If you suspect you have gluten-related disorders, consult a doctor before you go on a diet on your own.
Check our gluten-free protein bars.
Would you give up gluten just because? Or it is a necessity for you?
What effects does gluten have in your body?
What changes have you experienced when you went gluten-free?
Did you have a difficult time giving up gluten?
Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Images from Pixabay