These days everyone is going gluten-free.
The shelves of every supermarket are lined full of ‘gluten-free’ this and ‘gluten-free’ that.
Yet, before you rush to go gluten-free you should probably know about what gluten actually is and what any potential benefits or disadvantages of removing it from your diet are.
What Is Gluten?
Gluten helps food keep their shape and also helps baked goods to rise.
Gluten is a general term used for one of the proteins that are found in products such as wheat, spelt, barley, and rye.
There are two main gluten proteins called gliadin and gluten. It’s actually the gliadin part that is the cause of the harmful effects.(study)
As you may know, if you’ve experimented with gluten-free cooking, it’s hard to make anything rise without this protein. It also helps bind foods together, another common issue in gluten-free baking.
This is why it’s so common in creating food items such as bread, cereals, and pasta. Due to its water-soluble nature, it creates that ‘elastic’ aspect of dough.
When a gluten-containing flour is mixed with water, the gluten proteins create a sticky cross-linking network that has a similar consistency to glue.
That’s where the ‘glu-‘ part of ‘glu-ten’ comes from; it’s glue-like nature. Try baking a fresh loaf of bread and hold the wet dough in your hands.
You’ll immediately realize how sticky it is.
This is why it’s important to spread flour out on the surface that you’re kneading the dough on otherwise it’ll get stuck down and tear.
Due to this sticky-property, gluten-containing dough also has that satisfying chewy texture when eating it.
As well as this, gluten containing grains tend to be very cheap to produce which is why they are favored among businesses.
However, gluten is now also present in a lot of additives and fillers so it can even be found in stock cubes, sweets and soups.
Gluten has also developed to be a part of oats which it did not used to be. While the amounts of gluten in oats are not high compared to wheat and rye, they should still be avoided on a gluten-free diet.
What Is Celiac Disease?
For some people gluten can be a real problem. So much so that it can cause symptoms similar to that of nut allergies.
In people who suffer from celiac disease, consuming gluten causes an immune response which attacks the lining of the small intestine.(study)
This damage makes it hard for the body to absorb nutrients and increases the risk of diseases such as bone disease, anemia and intestinal cancer.
This process can also affect other areas of the body.(study)
14 Common signs and symptoms of celiac disease include:(study)
- Excessive Bruising and/or Bleeding
- Swelling of the Ankles, Hands, Feet, Arms and Legs
- Weight Loss
- Sickness and/or Vomiting
- Joint Pain
- Acid Reflux
Celiac disease can also give similar symptoms to malnutrition such as lack of growth in children, behavioral changes, and stomach pain.
Many People Believe That They Have a Gluten Intolerance
Many people believe that they have a gluten intolerance as when they remove gluten they tend to lose a lot of weight. Yet, this can simply be due to eating less food or a reduced amount of carbohydrates which cause water retention.
According to the Gluten Intolerance group of North America, 1 in 133 people have celiac disease yet other studies show about 0.7-1.0% of the population are celiac.
It is also said that 1/3 of the population suffer from some form of gluten intolerance/sensitivity though these numbers can be skewed as many people avoid gluten and believe that they are intolerant when they are not.
Other sources show that anywhere from 0.5% – 13% of the population are gluten intolerant/sensitive. Overall a massive 30% of Americans are currently avoiding this common protein.
Gluten intolerance/sensitivity may also be a misdiagnosis with the main cause being types of carbohydrates known as FODMAPs.
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols.
They cover fructose, lactose, fructo- and galactooligosaccharides (fructans and galactans) as well as polls such as sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol and malitol.
Gluten is also a member of this family and they are all poorly absorbed by the small intestine after consumption if you suffer from being FODMAP sensitive.
Common examples of high fodmap foods are Brussels sprouts, wheat, rye, barley, spelt, cauliflower, cabbage, sweet potato, apples, plums, pears, mango and any juices.
The symptoms are also very similar to that of gluten sensitivity (bloating, gas and irregular bowel movements) which is why it is so often misdiagnosed.
The only way to find out if these common foods are causing you problems is to eliminate them from your diet for at least 3 months before reintroducing a food from each of the individual categories.
So, one week you might try something high in oligosaccharides, the next may be polyols then monosaccharides and so on.
High consumption of these foods if you are sensitive can cause conditions such as SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), IBS, high stress and other digestive problems.
You may even find that you can tolerate some foods in small amounts and some you’re completely fine with.
It all comes down to testing it out for yourself. Unfortunately, most people who have celiac disease do not actually know that they have it.
They have all of the symptoms but are at a loss to what the cause is. It can also be confused with other autoimmune disorders too from the wide range of symptoms.
Many people have celiac disease as well as another health condition thus the two are worsening each other.
Sufferers of conditions such as fibromyalgia can have severely increased symptoms from ingesting gluten if they are reactive to it. Interestingly, a gluten-free diet has been shown to be beneficial in some cases of schizophrenia (study) and autism (study).
If you frequently suffer from bloating, irregular bowels or concentration issues after consuming a gluten containing product then I would highly suggest a period of 4 weeks where you eliminate all forms of gluten from your diet.
After this period, reintroduce it in a meal and see whether you experience any effects.
Gluten intolerance/sensitivity can also masquerade as a wheat intolerance which is entirely different.
You may be OK with gluten and yet it is simply wheat that is causing you issues. If you suspect that this is the case then continue consuming gluten containing foods such as rye and barley but take out all wheat (bread, pasta, pastries etc).
As you would with a suspected gluten intolerance, reintroduce wheat after 4 weeks and see how it affects you.
Is a Gluten-Free Diet Healthy?
Going gluten-free is the far healthier choice if you are intolerant or celiac. This will clear up your symptoms and revitalize your life.
However, for everyone else removing gluten is no healthier. There are many products out there that are labeled gluten-free which people believe to be better for you simply because of this.
Yet, they are then filled with all manors of other additives, chemicals and high-calorie substitutes to create the same taste and texture as the regular product.
This is why gluten-free products can sometimes be near twice the amount of calories as the regular product!
Not only this but they are far more expensive and generally do not taste as good. “Gluten-free junk food is still junk food“.
Just because a cake, biscuit or pizza is gluten-free doesn’t then make it full of vitamins and nutrients as well as being lower in calories. Most of the time it’s the opposite!
Many people believe that as we have not consumed grains for very long in our ancestry then everyone can benefit from removing gluten.
However, gluten has not been shown to cause any signs of affecting people in those without an intolerance, sensitivity or allergy.
As well as this, avoiding gluten can add stress to people’s lives as they cannot eat as many foods and the diet can be very costly as well.
I would highly recommend you not to go out of your way to avoid gluten unless it has been shown to have an issue with it.
You could always simply avoid grains by going completely paleo and then saving them for when you are out and about.
This way you get the best of both worlds and you do not need to organize your social life around your diet.
How To Go Gluten-Free
You may think that eradicating all gluten from your diet is a tough task but it really does not have to be. It all comes down to finding substitutes and planning your meals ahead of time.
Luckily with the increased prevalence of the gluten-free diet as well as the amount of media attention it gets, going gluten-free is a lot easier than it used to be. Your friends and family are more likely to understand as well.
Carbohydrates are going to be the only sources affected as this is where gluten originates.
Gluten containing ingredients:
• Bulgar Wheat
• Durum Wheat
• Wheat Bran
• Wheat Rusk
• Wheat Flour
• Wheat Starch
• Modified Wheat Starch
• Wheat Protein
• Barley Malt
• Barley Flour
• Rye Flour
Common gluten containing foods:
• Pizza Bases
• Oatmeal Cookies
• Anything In Batter, Breadcrumbs or Dusted With Flour
• Milk With Added Fibre, Yoghurt and/or Fromage Frais Containing Muesli or Cereals
• Breaded Ham
• Fish Fingers
• Fish Cakes
• Malted Milk Drinks
• Barley Waters/Squash
• Sauces (such as soy and salad dressings – always check the ingredients)
As you can see, many of these products are processed. If you stick to single ingredient foods that you would expect to find in nature then you should be alright.
My advice would be to follow something similar to the paleo diet which excludes many processed foods and focuses on meat, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit.
One food that many people do not realize has gluten is couscous. A popular side dish among many people, couscous is actually made of many tiny granules of steamed and dried durum wheat.
Make sure to avoid this at all costs. This is also important information if you suspect that you have a wheat sensitivity/intolerance opposed to a gluten sensitivity/intolerance.
Gluten Free Foods:
• Rice Flour
• Buckwheat (not actually a form of wheat despite the name)
• Soya Flour
• Potato Starch
• Modified Starch
• Potato Flour
• Gram Flour
• Polenta (Cornmeal)
• Urid Flour
• Anything Labeled As Gluten Free Including Breads, Biscuits, Crackers,Cakes, Pizza Bases, Pasta Rolls, Flour Mixes, Muesli, Oats
• Rice Porridge
• Millet Porridge
• Quinoa Porridge
• Corn Pasta
• Rice Pasta
• Rice Noodles
• All Fruits and Vegetables Including Those Which Are Canned, Tinned, Frozen or Dried
• Cream (Single, Double, Whipping, Clotted, Soured, Creme Fraiche)
• Plain Yoghurt
• Plain Fromage Frais
• Meat (if smoked, cured or cooked then check the ingredients)
• Fish (even smoked, kippered, dried, canned or tinned)
• Cooking Oils
• Reduced and Low-Fat Spreads
• Homemade Popcorn (if store bought then check the ingredients)
• Rice Cakes
• Rice Crackers
• Gluten-Free Crackers
• Gluten-Free Pretzels
• Fruit Juice
• Clear Fizzy Drinks
• Gluten Free Beers
• Ginger Beer
Here Are Some Example Meals You Can Use Throughout The Day
• Omelet with spinach, tomatoes and cheese
• Poached egg on gluten-free toast
• Gluten-free porridge (oatmeal) with strawberries, blueberries and whole milk
• Gluten-free cereal with milk
• Gluten free granola/muesli with yogurt
• Yogurt with berries and honey
• Bacon and fried eggs
• Beans on gluten free toast
• Scrambled eggs with vegetables and fruit
• Cheese and tomato sandwich using gluten-free bread
• Salad with tinned fish (salmon, tuna, sardines) and gluten-free salad dressing
• Gluten-free panini or wrap with ham and salad
• Chicken salad with nuts and olive oil
• Smoothie with milk, protein powder, berries and nut butter
• Leftovers from last night’s dinner
• Steak with mixed potato mash and vegetables
• Salmon with peas and chips
• Gluten-free pasta with tomato sauce
• Curry with gluten free naan bread
• Stir fry with rice or gluten-free noodles and beef strips with veggies
• Shepard’s/Cottage Pie
• Jacket Potato with beans and gluten-free fish fingers
• Bacon wrapped cod with peas and chips
• Burger with gluten-free bun or no bun with chips and salad
• Meatballs with vegetables and rice
• Chicken wings with vegetables, salsa and rice
• Most milk chocolate bars
• Yogurt (check the ingredients)
• Oatcakes (check the ingredients)
• Carrot and cucumber batons with salsa or humous
• Broccoli and cauliflower with salsa or humous
• Any pieces of fruit
• Rice cakes with honey or nut butter
• Hard boiled eggs
Most things that contain gluten can now be found in the form of a gluten-free substitute. That means that whatever you are eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner now you should be able to continue eating.
That’s right; pasta, bread and cereal can still be included in your lifestyle. However, they will now be much more expensive.
It’s better to pay extra for a healthier diet than save a few pennies and be constantly sick.
Also, even if you are gluten sensitive/intolerant you may find that you can still tolerate oats simply because they have such minimal amounts of gluten.
Even some people who have celiac disease can still eat oats just fine.
Yet, a lot of oats (and other foods for that matter) can be cross-contaminated when being processed as they are handled in the same facility as wheat, rye, spelt or other gluten containing food.
Any food that is labeled as being ‘gluten-free’ will be completely free of gluten so you do not need to worry about those products.
Always Check The Label
You may think that supplements and medicine would be completely gluten-free as well but this is not the case. Always check the label.
Checking the label is a very good habit to get into as not only will it tell you if there are gluten containing ingredients in the product but it will tell you what else is in there as well.
Products that seem simple such as ham, cheese and meats can be filled with all sorts of additives and chemicals that may not only contain gluten but could be in themselves quite harmful for your health.
Luckily, common allergens such as gluten and dairy are always highlighted in bold so they will stick out on the packaging if you’re having trouble locating them.
Eating out in restaurants is not as difficult as you think either as most restaurants now serve gluten free options of their normal dishes such as pizza, pasta and bread.
If they do not then you can always ask for them to make something up for you from the ingredients you can see on the menu.
It’s simple just to pair some meat, rice/potatoes with vegetables and hey presto you’ve got a delicious meal completely gluten free.
If you really want to succeed however I would recommend purchasing one or two gluten free cookbooks.
Cookbooks are great for giving you inspiration for your meals as well as teaching you how to create some wonderful dishes.
There are also many recipes online which you can find with a quick google search, and that are completely gluten free.
The first step is realizing that you cannot avoid gluten forever. There will be ways that it will slip into your diet no matter how hard you try.
Just as vegetarians occasionally accidentally eat meat, you too will accidentally eat a bit of gluten.
That’s OK. Just remember how it happened so that you can avoid it for the next time. If it’s a certain restaurant that forgot to prepare the food differently then have a word with the manager or just do not visit there anymore.
If you didn’t realize a product had gluten in then you will know for the future not to buy that product. If a friend or family member has made you a meal that they didn’t realize had gluten in then just make sure they know for next time.
Just don’t beat yourself up about it. The reaction should only last 12-24 hours, 3 days maximum, then you will settle down to normal. Yes, you may have had a reaction but you cannot stop something that you did not know was going to happen.
Researches and references