About one percent of the population are diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder related to foods with gluten that can wreak havoc on your digestive tract. Then there are also gluten sensitivities, which a larger percentage of the population has, causing a number of mysterious symptoms like bloating, depression, skin issues, and gassiness.
"Problems with gluten are widely under-diagnosed," says Mark Hyman, M.D., author of The UltraMind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First.
"The most serious gluten-related problem, celiac disease, affects 1 in 100 people or 3 million Americans, most of which are not diagnosed." "People with gluten sensitivity don't have the long-term and ongoing damage to the villi of the small intestine that people with celiac disease have; once gluten is removed from the diet, the symptoms go away," says Melissa McLean Jory, a master nutrition therapist and yoga teacher who writes the blog at glutenfreeforgood.com on GaiamLife. "But gluten is hard to break down, period, for all of us." If you think you may have a gluten allergy, remove foods with gluten from your diet completely and see if it helps, or go to a professional and find out. Watch out for deficiencies that go along with eating a gluten-free diet including fiber, iron, folate, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, and B12.
Here are some easy tips that make the process of removing foods with gluten much less difficult:
1. Focus on whole foods
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and protein and free of most processed foods does a lot to reduce your intake of gluten naturally. It's better to stick to whole foods rather than going out and buying every gluten-free processed food you can find. For your starch sides think rice, quinoa, potatoes, and organic corn.
2. Explore alternative flours
Eating gluten-free means learning to cook with alternative flours rather than white, whole wheat, and pastry flour. Some of my favorites include brown rice, fava bean, amaranth, and potato flour. Read more about gluten-free baking mistakes that can ruin your end product
3. Get label savvy
Learn to read labels to look for gluten in hidden places. Key words include anything with wheat, bulgur, malt, barley, pasta, oats, and oat flour. Some ingredients may have wheat like hydrolyzed plant protein, seasonings, flavorings, artificial flavors, and artificial colors. Again, buying foods that are less processed means you're less likely to deal with mysterious additives that may contain gluten.
4. Check your medications
Your medicines may contain wheat, rye, and barley, so if you're extremely allergic, find out. Read more about the most common animal ingredients in prescription meds
5. Consider a gluten-free phone app
This is especially helpful when you're out to dinner and you're not sure what you can order.
When you're unsure, pull out your trusty smartphone app so you don't accidentally eat gluten.
6. Beware of foods that you didn't know contained gluten
Beer, mustard, lunch meat, soy sauce, soups, sauces, dressing (often thickened with gluten). Don't trust anything that comes with a label, read it carefully to seek out hidden gluten culprits. [Editor's Note: If you want to eliminate gluten from your diet for good, click here to sign up for Naturally Savvy's Gluten-Free Get Healthy Challenge.]