Gluten-free diets have become extremely popular in the past couple of years. Food companies have been quick to pick up on the trend, and now gluten-free products are flooding our grocery stores, restaurant menus and even our happy hours. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It plays a key role in creating the rise and stability in baked goods. Chances are you probably have at least one friend or acquaintance who’s gluten-free.
What About Gluten Intolerance?
For people with Celiac disease, gluten triggers an immune response that causes damage to the intestines and a variety of unpleasant symptoms that vary per individual. Celiac disease is diagnosed with a blood test, genetic test or biopsy of the small intestine. The Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health estimate that about one in 141 people in the U.S. have Celiac disease. If you think you have this disease, consider setting up an appointment with your doctor to do some testing.
There may be an additional percentage of the population that experiences sensitivity to gluten and finds symptom-relief when they remove gluten from their diet. Sensitivity is hard to diagnose and symptoms vary. If you believe you have a sensitivity to gluten, an elimination diet is the best way to determine whether this is true. Remove all gluten from your diet for at least 3 weeks. Document at the end of each day how you feel physically and the severity of symptoms you may experience.
Is Gluten-Free Healthy?
If you aren’t gluten intolerant or don’t have Celiac disease, it’s not necessary to practice a gluten-free diet. Done in the right way, gluten-free can be healthy. But it’s important to note that gluten-free is not synonymous with healthy. Ditching whole grains for a highly processed packaged food with a gluten-free stamp on the box is not a healthy choice. A gluten-free donut is still a donut.
How Do I Practice Gluten-Free in a Healthy Way?
Instead of processed products, use whole grains and starchy vegetables to fill the void that wheat will leave in your daily eating habits. Here are some gluten-free whole grains and starchy vegetables that can be prepared at home or ordered at restaurants.
Gluten-free whole grains: Quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, amaranth, steel-cut oats (GF), buckwheat, millet and teff.
Starchy vegetables: Sweet potato, yam, potato, pumpkin, butternut squash, corn and winter squash.
There are a few gluten-free products available that are better than others. Look for ones that have only a few ingredients at most and ones you can pronounce. For example: brown rice pasta made from just brown rice.
Items to Watch Out for
You may be surprised to find some of the following items contain gluten:
- French fries
- processed lunch meat
- soy sauce
- salad dressings
- hot dogs
- flavored potato chips
- blue cheese
- curry powder
- and pickles to name a few.
If you have a gluten intolerance, chances are these items will probably be OK for you. Those with Celiac disease will want to find gluten-free versions of these items.