Have you noticed all the gluten-free products at the grocery store lately? Maybe you’ve seen a new section on your favorite restaurant’s menu? It seems as though everywhere we look lately, we see something ‘gluten-free’.
So what is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in some grain products such as wheat, rye, and barley. Oat products that are made in factories that also produce wheat, rye, and barley products may also contain gluten. Everyday products including, but not limited to, breads, cakes, pastas, and cookies contain gluten.
Why be gluten-free? About one in every 133 people in the US suffers from something called Celiac disease (CD). CD is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged by eating foods which contain gluten. If the small intestine is damaged, it makes it much harder to absorb the nutrients from the foods we eat. The best way to prevent this damage is to avoid foods which contain gluten. In addition, some people may have a wheat allergy, or sensitivity to gluten.
Most plain, unprocessed foods do not contain gluten. These foods include: plain vegetables, plain fruits, plain meats (including, beef, poultry, fish, and shellfish), plain dairy products, eggs, soy, nuts, and seeds. Grain products that people on a gluten-free diet can choose are: rice, quinoa, corn, potatoes, and lentils (beans). Being gluten-free can be tricky for Americans due to the amount of processed foods in our diet. Here are some key words to look for on food labels that may be a sign that gluten is included:
Beware of hidden ingredients in foods! These are some common foods that may contain gluten due to processing: candy, broth, sauces, gravies, imitation seafood, seasonings, thickeners, and soy sauce. Also, many food labels will say “contains gluten” or “gluten-free”. There are more than 2000 gluten-free products in grocery stores these days, so there are many options if you’re living gluten-free!
It is still important to consume whole grains even on a gluten-free diet! Choose naturally gluten free grains like quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, amaranth, and millet. Many gluten free breads and baking mixes are made from refined grains however lately a greater selection of whole grain gluten free breads and pastas have become available. To improve the nutrients in your baked goods replace ¼ to 1/3 cup of your gluten free baking mix with the same amount of one of these whole grain flours (amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa or gluten free oat flour). Other healthy eating guidelines such as including consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, products and healthy fats are the same for both gluten-free and regular diets.
A great resource book and source for much of the information in this handout is: Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide by Shelley Case, RD.