Here’s a quick, how-to for cutting out gluten guide that includes what food to eat, how to cook with gluten-free alternatives and nutritional pitfalls to watch for.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in many grains including wheat, rye and barley. But, gluten is hiding almost everywhere. Gluten has the amazing ability to help baked goods bind and prevent crumbling that has made gluten widely used in processed and packaged foods – it can be found in canned beans to spice mixes to cheese spreads.
What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is a medical condition in which gluten damages the absorptive surface of the small intestine that prevents the body from properly absorbing nutrients. Symptoms vary and can include anemia, weight loss, diarrhea, cramping and bloating, fatigue, irritability or even a form of skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis.
How can you test for celiac disease?
As symptoms vary from person to person it is hard to determine without the use of clinical tests. A simple blood test is commonly used to detect the possibility of celiac disease. The blood test looks for certain immune factors in the blood and can be ordered by your family physician. However, the blood test is not a definite diagnostic tool for celiac disease. In many cases a biopsy of the small intestine or an upper intestinal endoscopy is done to confirm diagnosis. There is no cure for celiac disease. A lifelong, diligent gluten-free lifestyle is the only course of treatment to date.
What is the difference between a gluten intolerance and celiac disease?
It’s not just folks with celiac disease that can benefit from living gluten-free. People can suffer from a spectrum of gluten reactions, according to research published in the scientific journal BioMed Central in 2011. Celiac disease involves an attack by the immune system on the body in the presence of gluten, damaging the part of the intestines that absorbs nutrients. But, in people with a non-celiac gluten-sensitivity/intolerance there is no intestinal destruction yet, there are uncomfortable symptoms including abdominal pain, headaches, foggy mind, joint pain and fatigue. A gluten-free lifestyle can be very helpful to those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity/intolerance.
The ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ Food List for Gluten-Free Living
Wheat, barley, rye, malt, triticale, kamut, graham flour, hydrolyzed wheat protein, oats*, as well as deep-fried foods (cross contamination) and most processed and packaged foods.
*Oats that have been carefully cultivated and processed can be gluten-free.
Corn, rice, sorghum, millet, teff, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, vegetables, fruit, nuts, tapioca, soybean, potato, vegetable oils, milk and derivatives, eggs, fish, plain meat.
Filling Up with Alternative Gluten-Free Grains
Research from the Celiac Disease Center in the United States found people on a gluten-free diet are most likely to choose rice as their dietary starch. Relative to other gluten-free grains rice has a low nutritional profile. The researchers found that when people included alternative gluten-free grains, such as buckwheat or quinoa, their diet had higher amounts of key nutrients including protein, fiber, calcium, B vitamins and iron. Many alternative gluten-free grains are available at your local health food store including quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, teff and millet. Every grain has a unique taste and nutritional benefits.
Quinoa – There are hundreds of varieties of quinoa available – it can range in color from white to red to black. Quinoa is a good source of protein and antioxidants.
Buckwheat – It has a nutty almost bitter flavor, and can be used to make a variety of foods from pancakes to gluten-free beer. Considered a very nutritious grain, buckwheat is a source of many minerals including manganese, copper and magnesium.
Amaranth – Tan-colored, tiny grain-like seeds with a robust nutty flavor. It is a source of many nutrients including magnesium, manganese, iron and phosphorous.
Teff – A small grain that ranges in color from milky white to black. It has a unique nutty, mild-molasses-like flavor and is sold as a whole grain or flour. Teff is a source of many minerals including iron and phosphorus.
Millet -Milled millet seeds are very small and can be yellow, white, grey or red. Millet has a similar texture to rice flour and is a source of many minerals and offers a small amount of many B vitamins.
Tips for Baking and Cooking Gluten-Free
Cooking gluten-free can be a challenging but, worth it. And, every cook can do it! For those who are less culinary-inclined, there are many gluten-free food products available at your local health food store including ready-made items, like gluten-free macaroni and bread. Those who enjoy cooking from scratch can experiment with substituting gluten-containing ingredients in their favorite recipes with one of the many gluten-free grains, starches and flours available at your local health food store. As for gluten-free starches try tapioca, cornstarch and arrowroot. Alternatively, take a look at gluten-free recipes – many chefs have created mouth-watering gluten-free recipes that prevent you from having to substitute and omit ingredients.
Wheat Flour Alternative
Looking for a good substitute for wheat flour in a recipe? A combination of gluten-free flours and starches works better than single flours. Try this simple gluten-free flour mixture: 6 cups white rice flour, 2 cups potato starch, 1½ cups tapioca flour. Makes 9½ cups of baking flour mix; store in a tightly sealed container.
Nutritional Pitfalls of Gluten-Free Living
Any diet that restricts what you can eat comes with the possibility of falling into a nutrient deficit. Eating a diet devoid of breads and cereals may result in insufficient consumption of fiber. It may also result in insufficient consumption of iron, folate and vitamin B-12; breads and cereals are often fortified with these nutrients to fill deficits in the ‘average’ diet. Foods such as beans, leafy green vegetables and animal meat are good sources of B vitamins, minerals and fibre, making them good additions to a gluten-free diet to help prevent nutrient deficiencies.
People with celiac disease have additional concerns with nutrient deficiency, as their damaged small intestine has difficulty absorbing iron, folate and calcium. Research confirms that people with celiac disease commonly have nutrient deficiencies. According to research reported in the journal Nutrients in 2010, people with celiac disease are commonly deficient in folate, iron, fibre and B vitamins. The report also noted that a deficiency in calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D are also common and is likely caused by low consumption of dairy; damaged villi in the small intestine of those with celiac disease produce less lactase causing lactose intolerance. Supplementation may be required by some individuals on a gluten-free diet to prevent nutritional deficiencies (vitamins, minerals), and to support digestion and absorption (enzymes, probiotics, herbs).
[Editor’s Note: If you want to learn more about gluten and how to avoid it, click here to sign up for Naturally Savvy’s Gluten-Free Get Healthy Challenge.]
This article originally appeared on AllisonTannis.com.
Image: Cathrine Lindblom Gunasekara