In all honesty, gluten free has been a swear word in my vocabulary. It can be so overwhelming when you just take on this new lifestyle. Gluten is a protein that is found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. For those who are intolerant to gluten or have celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is all they will ever know. It can be hard to know where to start and to take in all the new do’s and don’t of a gluten free lifestyle. I created this beginner’s guide to gluten-free eating based on what I experienced on my own journey and I hope it helps!
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What food should you avoid when you have a gluten intolerance?
The most important place to start is knowing what foods to avoid to maintain a gluten free diet. This was the most challenging part for me because I never realized how many food items, especially processed foods, contained gluten. I had to make significant changes in my lifestyle and learn to better read labels.
- Wheat-based products: This includes bread, pasta, couscous, and cereals that contain wheat as a primary ingredient.
- Barley and rye: These grains often lurk in various foods, such as beer, malt vinegar, and certain types of broth and soups.
- Processed meats: Deli meats, hot dogs, sausages, and some canned meats may contain gluten as they use fillers or thickeners.
- Condiments and sauces: Many condiments like soy sauce, salad dressings, marinades, and gravies contain gluten due to the addition of wheat or barley ingredients.
- Fried foods: Battered or breaded foods like onion rings, chicken tenders, and fries may have a gluten-containing coating.
- Processed snacks: Most commercial snacks, such as pretzels, crackers, chips, and flavored popcorn, contain gluten as they are typically made with wheat or barley.
- Soups and bouillons: Some canned or instant soups, as well as bouillon cubes or granules, often have gluten-based additives for flavor and thickening.
- Sweet treats: Cakes, cookies, pastries, and other desserts usually contain wheat flour as a central ingredient, making them off-limits for those with gluten intolerance.
- Dairy alternatives: Some dairy substitutes, like certain brands of soy milk, may contain gluten-based thickeners or flavorings.
- Processed grains: Foods made from processed grains like white rice or refined corn (such as gluten-containing cornflakes or cornbread) should be avoided unless labeled gluten-free.
- Cross-contaminated foods: Even gluten-free foods can become contaminated during production or preparation if they come into contact with gluten-containing products or surfaces, so it’s important to check for potential cross-contamination.
What are the signs of having a gluten intolerance?
Everyone is unique and you can have some or all of these symptoms. I always thought I had a gluten intolerance but tested negative each time. Turns out I have Crohn’s Disease which causes the same reaction to gluten in my case. Making changes to your lifestyle should only be to feel better and lead a healthier life. If you think that you might have any type of condition, consult with your healthcare provider. Here are a few symptoms that I experienced and also noticed in a few other people who have a gluten intolerance.
- Digestive issues such as bloating, abdominal pain, gas, or diarrhea after consuming gluten-containing foods.
- Fatigue or exhaustion after consuming gluten.
- Headaches or migraines.
- Joint pain or muscle aches.
- Skin problems such as rashes, eczema, or dermatitis herpetiformis (itchy blisters).
- Mood changes including anxiety, depression, irritability, or brain fog.
- Nutrient deficiencies or weight loss due to nutrient mal-absorption.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Swelling or inflammation in the hands, fingers, or feet.
- Hormonal imbalances or irregular menstrual cycles in women.
- Neurological symptoms like tingling or numbness in the extremities.
What is a gluten-free diet?
A gluten-free eating diet is a dietary regimen that excludes foods containing gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and some other grains. This type of diet is typically followed by people with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or wheat allergy. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which consuming gluten causes damage to the small intestine, while non-celiac gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy are different types of immune reactions to gluten. A gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease and can also help manage symptoms in people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity or wheat allergy.
There are also many gluten-free products available now, including bread, pasta, and snacks, which can be found in specialty stores and many grocery stores. Without these replacements I tended to feel left out when having social gatherings, but lucky for us, most establishments have made gluten free options available.
Following gluten-free eating lifestyle can pose certain challenges, as it involves carefully checking labels and ingredients to ensure that gluten is not present. It is also important to communicate with restaurants and food providers to ensure that meals are gluten-free. Some people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity may experience significant health benefits from following gluten-free eating, such as improved digestion, increased energy levels, and reduced inflammation. However, there is no evidence that gluten-free eating is beneficial for people without a gluten-related condition.
My beginner’s guide to gluten-free eating.
Know which foods are naturally gluten-free.
There are plenty of foods that are gluten-free and don’t require any special labeling. It’s important to note, however, that packaged and processed foods may contain hidden sources of gluten, even if they are not grain-based. I have made this mistake so many times and it’s really important to know what foods you are dealing with and what went in them.
Here are a few naturally gluten-free foods:
- Fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen)
- Meat (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb, etc.)
- Seafood and fish
- Dairy products (milk, cheese, butter, yogurt)
- Grains and flours (rice, corn, buckwheat, flax, teff, quinoa)
- Nuts and seeds (almonds, peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds)
- Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas)
- Herbs and spices
- Oils and vinegar (olive oil, canola oil, coconut oil, apple cider vinegar)
RELATED:| 15 Best Gluten and Dairy free recipes.
Learn how to read food labels.
To ensure that a food is gluten-free, it’s important to read the label carefully. Look for any gluten-containing ingredients like wheat, barley, or rye. Many companies now include “gluten-free” on their labeling, which makes it easier to identify safe options. Most food packaging has an “Allergens” section which lists common allergy ingredient’s and if the food item does contain gluten it will most likely be listed there.
Once you get the hang of reading your food labels, following a gluten free lifestyle isn’t that hard. It does take some preparation where it might not always have taken like going on a road trip. But, you soon find yourself reaching for foods you’ve learned to love and always have a secret stash somewhere! I never leave home without snacks.
Watch out for cross-contamination.
Even if a product is technically gluten-free, it can still become contaminated if it’s made in a facility that also processes gluten-containing foods. Some companies take extra measures to prevent cross-contamination, while others don’t. If you’re unsure, contact the manufacturer or look for certification by organizations like the Gluten Intolerance Group. This especially applies when you go to a restaurant.
Make sure the ingredients they are using are gluten free and notify the kitchen of a severe allergy. Gluten might be hidden in spices or sauces that they aren’t aware of so be specific when you order a meal.
Substitute gluten-containing foods with alternatives.
Many grains like wheat, barley and rye contain gluten, making them off-limits on a gluten-free diet. However, there are plenty of alternatives like rice, quinoa, buckwheat, and corn that can be substituted. There are also gluten-free flours that can be used for baking like almond flour, coconut flour, and rice flour.
Here are a few gluten-free alternatives:
- Gluten-free bread
- Brown rice
- Almond flour
- Coconut flour
- Oats (make sure they are labeled gluten-free)
- Corn tortillas
- Rice crackers
- Gluten-free pasta
- Sweet potato noodles
- Chickpea flour
- Sunflower seed bread
- Gluten-free granola
- Gluten-free pizza crust
- Coconut yogurt
- Nut butter
- Gluten-free beer
- Tapioca flour
- Brown rice flour
Be mindful when eating out.
Eating out can be a tricky situation for those following a gluten-free eating diet. Many restaurants now offer gluten-free options, but it’s important to communicate clearly with the server and ask about cross-contamination. It may also be beneficial to research restaurant menus beforehand and call ahead to discuss options.
Join a support group.
It can be helpful to join a support group or online community of celiac or gluten-free individuals. These groups can provide a wealth of information, emotional support, and practical tips for managing a gluten-free lifestyle. Being surrounded by others who have been through similar experiences allows for a sense of community and understanding, providing the opportunity to learn from others and share tips and advice. These groups can help with the challenges of navigating a new lifestyle, such as finding restaurants that offer gluten-free options and reading labels for hidden gluten.
Being part of a group can provide motivation and accountability, as well as emotional support during the adjustment period. Overall, joining a support group offers a positive, welcoming environment for those starting their gluten-free journey. I still regularly turn to support groups to ask for advice and learn new things and I’ve been on this journey for 5 years now.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Whether you’re eating out, shopping or cooking at home, don’t be afraid to ask questions about the ingredients or cooking processes to determine if they are gluten-free. Always advocate for yourself and your dietary needs.
Cook your own meals.
Home-cooked meals are often the safest option for people with gluten intolerance. Learning how to cook some simple gluten-free recipes will help you to maintain your dietary requirements. Most of the times I need to make my own snacks and so on. Finding gluten free bread, muffins or pretty much anything baked is a challenge, especially in more remote areas. Not only can gluten free alternatives be hard to find from time to time, sometimes they just taste horrible. Finding a few recipes you love and sticking to them is a great way to never have to feel like you are missing out on something. It’s making the best of a not so great situation.
A complete list of gluten-free foods:
All fresh fruits are naturally gluten-free. Note that some canned fruit can possibly contain gluten due to other ingredients.
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)
Again, all fresh vegetables are naturally gluten-free, except for some cases where they are canned and mixed with other ingredients.
- Bell Peppers
- Sweet potato
- Squash (butternut, acorn, spaghetti)
- Brussels Sprouts
- Leafy greens (spinach, kale, arugula, lettuce, etc.)
Meat, Poultry & Seafood.
All meats are gluten free, but again beware of canned products that may contain hidden gluten ingredients.
- Sour cream
- Cream cheese
- Cottage cheese
Nuts & seeds:
- Macadamia nuts
- Brazil nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Chia seeds
Other gluten-free friendly foods:
- Beans and lentils
- Maple syrup
- Coconut milk
- Olive oil
- Spices and herbs
- Condiments (mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, salsa, etc.)
Transitioning to a gluten-free eating lifestyle can be overwhelming, but with a little education and effort, it can be manageable. It’s important to remember that some products may contain hidden sources of gluten, so it’s always best to err on the side of caution. With time, finding safe and delicious options will become second nature.
Happy gluten-free eating,
Your Wellness Warrior!