What is the Gluten Free Diet?

A gluten-free diet eliminates the protein gluten, a compound found in bread, pasta and other foods. Those with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, the most severe form of gluten sensitivity, may experience weight gain or weight loss as part of the digestive discomfort and other symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity. Because of this, some people try the diet to see if it helps them to control weight, thereby uncovering an overlooked sensitivity to gluten. Such forays into the diet have resulted in greater demand for gluten-free foods, even though only a tiny portion of the population has celiac disease.

Costs of the Gluten Free Diet

If you are thinking about trying a gluten-free diet, make sure you consider the cost. Gluten free foods are expensive and often difficult to procure. If you do not have a natural foods market nearby, you will need to order food online, adding the cost of shipping to the food. You can lessen the expense by cooking your own gluten-free foods, but this requires a great deal of preparation and care.

Because gluten-free grain flours have different properties, they often must be mixed together to create baked goods. One must also have a thickener like xanthum gum or tapioca starch. In addition, measuring these flours must be precise for recipes to turn out properly. Some bakers even use a kitchen scale and weigh the ingredients to ensure they are using the right amount. Because of the high cost and the careful preparation needed, a gluten free diet is not recommended unless you really need it.

Gluten Sensitivity

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Gluten sensitivity is an autoimmune disorder, causing an immune reaction in the small intestine. Over time, this damages the inner lining of the small intestine, curbing the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients. For this reason, it is especially important to eliminate gluten from the diets of sensitive children. It is also important for children on gluten-free diets to be sure they get adequate protein to replace the lack of gluten protein in the diet.

The symptoms of gluten sensitivity manifest as frequent digestive imbalances. These can include frequent diarrhea or constipation, weight gain or weight loss or bloating. They may also cause symptoms like fatigue, headaches, bone and joint pain, tooth enamel defects or mouth ulcers. Some people experience a different form of sensitivity affecting the skin called dermatitis herpetiformis. This form of sensitivity results in itchy skin lesions.

Grains that Contain Gluten

Grains containing gluten include wheat, barley, rye, farina, graham flour, semolina, durham, bulgur, kamut, kasha, matzo meal, spelt and triticale. Instead of using flour made from these grains, those on a gluten-free diet can use flour made from rice, soy, corn, millet, sorghum, or teff. Other flours for gluten-free baking are made from the starch of potatoes, tapioca or arrowroot. To provide the proper consistency to dough, other ingredients including, xanthum gum, baking powder and baking soda are also needed.

Some grains do not contain gluten, but are processed on machinery that also processes other gluten-containing grains. For this reason, you should only consume these grains when labeled “gluten-free.” These grains include amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa and oats.

While baked goods obviously can contain gluten, other foods may have eluded your radar screen. Unless of course you have true gluten sensitivity, in which case your stomach will quickly let you know. Some of the more obscure gluten-containing foods include soups, gravies, sauces and salad dressings that are thickened with gluten-containing modified food starch. Beer is made from barley, so it also contains gluten. Other gluten surprises can come in the form of imitation seafood, processed deli meats and self-basting poultry.

Gluten in Medications

Medications and vitamins may use gluten as a binding agent. This is also true for many lip balms and lipsticks, toothpastes, postage stamps and even play dough. Cross contamination from these products can make someone with gluten sensitivity very sick.

Common Gluten Free Foods

Some foods are always okay on gluten-free diet. These include fresh meat, fish and poultry, fruits, vegetables, nuts, rice, potatoes, wine, distilled liquors, cider and spirits. Understand that if any gluten-free foods come coated with breadcrumbs, covered in sauce or marinated, they may not be safe. Baked beans are a good example of a gluten-free food that can be contaminated by gluten in the sauce.

Other foods are usually fine, but you must check the label. For instance, dairy does not contain gluten naturally, but reduced calorie or low-fat items sometimes contain modified food starch as a thickener and replacement for the removed fat. Any product labeled ‘gluten free’ is safe to eat. Be suspicious of labels that say “wheat free” since that does not necessarily mean a food is gluten free.

Once you have a good understanding of which foods to avoid and how to prepare gluten-free meals, it will be easier to maintain the diet.