A gluten free diet is necessary for those with celiac disease, latent celiac disease or those who are sensitive or intolerant to wheat products. Unfortunately, true celiacs must avoid even small amounts of gluten in their diet or their health may be compromised.
Gluten is a sticky protein that for some individuals causes an autoimmune reaction to produces antibodies which attack and destroy the villi in the small intestine. Chronic villi damage leads to malabsorpotion of essential nutrients, specifically calcium, iron and folic acid. Studies have shown that celiacs not adhering to a gluten-free diet have an increased risk of lymphoma. Other diseases such as diabetes, thyroid disease, arthritis and lupus have been associated with celiac disease.
Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, malt, rye and to some extent oats. Hidden gluten can be troublesome to the unsuspecting. Soups and gravies, for instance, are often thickened with wheat flour. Cross contamination can be a problem when sharing a toaster or eating products produced in locations that also produce wheat products.
If you are making the switch to gluten-free products, you can include rice, potatoes, corn, vegetables, fruit, eggs, cheese, milk, meat, fish, nuts, seeds, and beans and products made from these. Labels must be read and questions asked when eating out to make sure the meal hasn’t been battered, breaded, stuffed, thickened or augmented with wheat flour or other gluten-laden products. Salads need to be crouton-free. Hamburgers need to be breadcrumb free.
The difficulty for some comes in replacing the “bread group” of their diet. Giving up their favourite pasta, pizza, cakes, cookies and other tempting bakery items is a high call. Changing over to a gluten-free diet is also complicated. Every breakfast cereal and many common snacks have to be rethought. Finding the right products can be time-consuming. Finding something on a restaurant menu, at a drive-thru or at a party can also be challenging.
The good news is that new gluten-free products are being created every day and can be ordered online from a variety of sources. Recently, more and more gluten-free products are springing up in common grocery and drug stores. Check the organic department of your store. Gluten-free breads do not contain preservatives, so may be found in a cooler or freezer section. Make sure you refrigerate or freeze them when you bring them home.
When changing to a gluten-free diet, replace wheat pasta with rice or corn pasta. Premade breads, bagels and even pizza crusts are available that are made with rice, tapioca, potato or bean flours. Alternatively, gluten-free flours are available for those who would like to make their own breads. Gluten-free snacks including crackers and cookies are also available. Because the texture and taste of gluten-free bread is sometimes dry, you may want to toast them.
Always read the food labels on products, even for items you think would not contain gluten. There may be an advisory label alerting you to possible cross-contamination of a product. It may say, “This product may contain wheat”, or “Produced in a plant that produces products made with wheat”, and so on. You will have to decide whether you will include foods of this nature in your diet.
Going gluten-free is a process of including the right variety of foods in your diet, and substituting your grains on a continuous basis. Try a variety of products so that you can decide on the ones you find most palatable. Going gluten-free may resolve a variety of health issues and may save your life if you are headed for full-blown celiac disease.