The Ins and Outs of Living Gluten-Free
Gluten is a word thrown around by many people these days. Some people have a more personal connection, whether it be because of a personal health journey, and others just think of it as “something to do with bread.” When I went gluten-free over 15 years ago, most people had never heard of that term and had no idea what I was talking about. Now “gluten-free” has become somewhat of a health fad with everyone trying it out just because it’s popular. While I’m all for everyone trying things out, going “gluten-free” is a very real, researched, and scientifically sound lifestyle intervention that can change your life and health.
Twenty years ago, it was rare to find gluten-free bread, but now you can buy it at Costco. My favorite food, pizza has found itself gluten-free with a keto, cauliflower, or gluten-free crust. Restaurants and fast-food chains now offer gluten-free menus and substitutions. Most grocery stores now stock snacks, desserts, and baking mixes in gluten-free options.
I believe the rise in gluten-free living is due to the relief and improved health that you feel when you eliminate gluten from your diet. While not everyone is sensitive to gluten, it is a lectin and very hard for all humans to digest.
Gluten is a lectin. (For more information on lectins, I have a whole blog post dedicated to them here). Naturally occurring, gluten is found in wheat, barley, and rye. An intolerance for gluten can result in medical conditions that need to be managed with changed diets and lifestyle choices. I will go into more detail on each medical condition later in this post.
Wheat 101: There are different varieties of wheat available.
All five varieties contain wheat gluten.
Wheat flours also contain gluten. The difference in the names refers to how the wheat is milled or how the flour is processed during production.
All of the following flours have gluten:
- Enriched flour
- Farina - used in hot cereals
- Graham flour
- Self-rising flour (aka “phosphate flour”)
- Semolina - used in pasta and couscous
Unfortunately, most breads and grains have gluten in them. Here is a list of “bready” foods to avoid if you have a gluten sensitivity:
- White bread
- Whole wheat bread
- Potato bread
- Rye bread
- Sourdough bread
- Wheat crackers
- Whole wheat wraps
- Flour tortillas
- Traditional Pasta Dishes
Did you know that there are some condiments that have gluten in them? That’s right - beware of these sauces and dressings if you are gluten-sensitive:
- Salad dressings
- Barbeque sauce
- Malt vinegar
- Certain gravy mixes
- Soy sauce
Don’t despair - there is an alternative! Try making your own condiments with gluten-free ingredients or purchase some that are specifically labeled to be “gluten-free.” Click here for a great list of gluten-free condiment options - don’t limit yourself to just ketchup and mustard when there are so many more to choose from!
Bake sales and the snack aisle are other instances where wariness is key. Unfortunately for those of you that have celiac disease or one of the many other gluten-intolerance ailments, baked goods and snacks are a jackpot for gluten. Due to the amounts of grains and wheat flour in these goodies, they should be avoided at all costs:
- Cakes, cookies, muffins, chips, candy bars, granola, cupcakes, pretzels, doughnuts, pancakes, waffles, pastries, etc.
The list doesn’t stop at foods, however. There are even some beverages that should be avoided if you are sensitive to gluten:
- Bottled wine coolers
- Chocolate milk (commercialized only)
- Bottled coffee drinks
Processed foods are on the list as well, but I recommend that we all limit consumption of these items, no matter what your health condition is:
- Processed cheeses, french fries, fried foods, prepared lunch meal sets, soup mixes, instant dessert mixes.
It seems like I just named every food item I see in my local grocery store. Fear not, there are some foods that are generally gluten-free and delicious.
- Fruits and Vegetables
- Legumes - beans and lentils
- Gluten-free grains like quinoa, oats, corn, brown rice, wild rice, and buckwheat
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy fats and oils like full-fat organic yogurt, olive oil, avocado oil, avocados, and coconut oil.
What can I eat on a gluten-free diet?
What does gluten-free mean?
This usually describes a good that doesn’t have any gluten in it. It also refers to a person (like me) that doesn’t eat gluten.
How long does it take for gluten to leave your body?
Gluten follows the same exit process as other foods that you ingest, so it may take 24-48 hours for the gluten to completely leave your body. In order to speed this up, make sure to drink lots of water and stay hydrated.
What is celiac disease?
There are five main gluten intolerance-related disorders. They are celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten ataxia, dermatitis herpetiformis, and wheat allergy. Celiac disease is the most common. It has links to the environment as well as your genetics. The only available treatment for this ailment is to follow a strict gluten-free diet. The other gluten-related disorders have their main side effects in skin and neurological conditions. Experts have estimated that 2 million people in the United States have celiac disease, and 1% of the world's population. Celiac disease is turning into a worldwide health problem, with incidence rates increasing every year.
What does a gluten attack feel like/look like?
A gluten attack can feel awful. Generally, the bodily effects are constipation, bloating, gas, and abdominal pain. Some of the members of my family actually get a burning and tingling sensation in their lips if they eat something with gluten in it. I personally get an almost-instant headache and later experience abdominal cramps and pain.
What are the effects of cutting out gluten?
Cutting out gluten can have some interesting effects on your body. For one, you will be hungrier more often. So make sure and replace your gluten-containing foods with additional fats, vegetables, and proteins. Weight fluctuations may occur, along with changes in other food sensitivities. Many people experience less swelling and water weight when they give up gluten. Additionally, your major sources of fiber aren’t being consumed. Constipation may occur, which is all the more reason for you to stay hydrated and eat some leafy green vegetables. Any major diet change can result in your body taking time to get used to the new foods.
If you are curious about whether or not you are reacting to gluten, I recommend a Whole30 diet or food sensitivity testing. I am happy to guide you through either one. You need to go gluten-free for at least 30 days in order to determine your sensitivity to gluten.
Why are potatoes gluten-free but french fries aren’t?
Potatoes are gluten-free in their natural form (i.e. freshly harvested potatoes with no other ingredients added and no exposure to a surface that has had a gluten product on it). The danger in gluten contamination comes with frying them into french fries or potato chips. Additionally, many french fries have a seasoning or coating on the outside that includes gluten/wheat flour Pots and pans can result in cross-contamination as well. Thoroughly wash your pots and pans before frying them up in a gluten-free sauce.
Concluding Thoughts on Gluten
Gastrointestinal health (GI) is my jam! With the increased general knowledge surrounding our GI health and the link to our mental health, gluten sensitivities are one of many things that you can learn about to further your own health and start making lifelong good decisions for your GI and brain. I’ve also included some of my favorite gluten-free recipes below to give you some inspiration of what to serve you and your family this year:
Bon Appetit and good luck!
If you’re looking into more ways to optimize your GI health, Schedule a consult with me, Carly Neubert BA, NC.