The Ease Of Going Gluten-Free

Lured by mouth-watering pizza, luscious-looking cookies and the smell of fresh-cooked bread, someone on a gluten-free diet may feel sensually deprived. But for those people sensitive to gluten, avoiding foods with gluten (made with wheat, barley or rye) is a lifesaver. And the basic principles of the gluten-free diet are elegantly simple.

Of course, in sticking to a long-term gluten-free diet, the devil is in the details. Basically, if you have celiac (an autoimmune reaction to gluten, the prevalent protein in wheat, barley and rye), you have to avoid gluten-containing foods. That obviously requires not eating bread, donuts and most cereal. But you also have to be on the lookout for hidden sources of gluten. Foods that you may not know contain gluten include: any item with malt (malt vinegar, malted milk, beer), pasta made from wheat, soy sauce, teriyaki sauces, licorice, imitation fish and crab meat, vegetarian meat substitutes made with soy, and some processed cheeses.

That being said, a gluten-free diet can be extremely healthy if you stick to basics. Unprocessed meats and fish without breading or dressing are always gluten-free. Fresh fruits and vegetables are safe for celiacs. Eggs, corn, rice and potatoes are OK. So are nuts, beans, milk, butter, coffee, fruit juice and cooking oils. If any of these are processed, however, you have to check the list of ingredients to make sure additives containing gluten have not been mixed in.

The Oat Question

Whether oats are safe to eat for people sensitive to gluten is a controversial issue. For one thing, most oats and oatmeal sold in supermarkets are contaminated with gluten since they are processed on the same machinery used for wheat products. So those foods are definitely problematic for someone with celiac. However, you can now buy oats that are labeled “gluten-free” and which have been produced in plants that eliminate this type of cross-contamination.

But some researchers believe that even uncontaminated oats contain proteins that can cause difficulties in the gluten-sensitive. These studies have found that some people with celiac have the same reaction on a molecular level to oats that they have to wheat, barley and rye. 1 I know that some of my most serious autoimmune reactions (rashes, mental fog) seemed to occur when I was eating oatmeal for breakfast every day.  Consequently, I will never eat oats again.

Gluten-Free Foods

As more and more people become aware of their problems eating foods containing gluten, food manufacturers have increased the supply of processed gluten-free foods. As a result, you can now fairly easily find gluten-free cookies, pizza and bread in many supermarkets. These foods are made with ground up corn, almonds, rice, potatoes and other processed grains to try to duplicate foods traditionally made with wheat. I mostly stay away from these products since they can wreak havoc with my blood sugar.

Sauce Complications

If you are trying to avoid gluten, you also have to be cautious about soups, salad dressing and sauces. Very often, these items have had wheat flour, or another wheat product, added as a thickening agent.  So always read their labels carefully. Similarly, if you are eating at a restaurant, you may have to be wary of sauces and flavorings that have been added to what seems like a gluten-free dish. Even French fries may be cooked in oil containing gluten or had wheat-containing seasoning added.

The best way to eat a healthy, gluten-free diet is to prepare your food from scratch for yourself (see http://health.usnews.com/health-news/diet-fitness/diet/articles/2011/08/03/a-gluten-free-diet-doesnt-have-to-be-boring ). That way, you know exactly what you are eating and you can stay away from the excess sugar and salt added to processed foods.

1 Arentz-Hansen H, Fleckenstein B, Molberg O, Scott H, Koning F, et al. (2004) The Molecular Basis for Oat Intolerance in Celiac Disease Patients. PLoS Med 1 (1): e1

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Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.