By Betty Murray
“Gluten-Free” is a term that has gained a lot of popularity over the last few years, but what does gluten-free really mean?
Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Gluten causes inflammation in the small intestines of people with celiac disease.
Some people may have gluten sensitivity, or “celiac lite,” which means a person may have the antibodies in the blood that are characteristic of celiac, and have all the symptoms of the disease, except intestinal damage. People with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity will experience significant improvements in symptoms when they switch to a gluten free diet.
People with gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity may experience abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and gas.
Many people who have not been diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease choose to go “gluten-free,’ anyway. Is it really better for you to go gluten-free? Not necessarily if your body doesn’t respond to gluten in the same way as someone who has Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity. However, many people report to feeling better after reducing their intake of gluten.
It’s important to note that food labeled as “gluten-free” isn’t necessarily healthier. Many times, gluten-free foods are high in calories, fat, and carbohydrates. If your goal is to lose weight, and you do not have a diagnosed gut problem that requires a gluten-free diet, eating gluten-free may not be the best choice for you.
Steps to getting started on a gluten-free lifestyle
A gluten-free diet excludes all foods containing gluten. To go “gluten-free,” you have to eliminate these foods from your diet. Here are a few steps to help you transition to a gluten-free lifestyle.
1. Clean out your kitchen and pantry. Go through your fridge, freezer, and pantry and remove any foods containing gluten. Once these foods are out of your home, you won’t have the temptation to eat them.
2. Stock up on gluten-free foods. Once you’ve cleaned out your pantry and kitchen, it’s time to stock up on fresh produce, nuts, and seeds so you’ll have gluten-free snacks on hand.
3. Read food labels. Reading food labels is important whether you’re gluten-free or not. You might be surprised how many “hidden” products are in the foods you think are “healthy.” When looking for gluten on the ingredient list, look also for ingredients such as “hydrolyzed plant protein,” “hydrolyzed vegetable protein,” “modified food starch,” and malt. These products most likely include gluten.
4. Learn the substitutes. Eating gluten-free doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the foods you eat. There are many substitutions for gluten products, including replacing wheat flour with a gluten-free flour like rice flour, almond flour, or chickpea flour. Replace wheat pasta with quinoa-based pasta, and soy sauce with tamari.
5. Find local restaurants that cater to gluten-free. Many restaurants have added gluten-free options to their menus, and some are even structured entirely around gluten-free foods. Some gluten-free or “gluten-friendly” restaurants in the Dallas area are: Mellow Mushroom, Whiskey Cake, Spiral Diner and Bakery, Mi Cocina, Chip’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers, Fireside Pies, and Rick’s Chophouse, among many more.
Betty Murray, CN, HHC, RYT is a Certified Nutritionist & Holistic Health Counselor, founder of the Dallas-based integrative medical center, Wellness and founder of the Metabolic Blueprint wellness program. Betty’s nutrition counseling practice specializes in metabolic and digestive disorders and weight loss resistance. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutritional interventions to improve their health. Betty is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.