What Can You Eat On Gluten-Free Diet?

by Dr. Ahmed Zayed
Published on March 20, 2019

Gluten, a protein found in many of the foods we consume on a day-to-day basis, have been linked to a number of potential adverse effects in some people. The substance is considered a protein and is responsible for providing food with both moisture and elasticity (1); thus ensuring food can maintain a specific shape. Many foods, such as bread, depend on gluten to offer the chewy texture people enjoy. This protein is found in barley, oats, rye, and many other food products.

While gluten is generally considered safe and harmless, some people have conditions where gluten can adversely interact with the human body. Celiac disease is the most common and well-known condition that causes such adverse effects when gluten is consumed, but other conditions also exist where the body becomes sensitive to the intake of gluten.

For individuals who experience adverse effects when eating gluten, a gluten-free diet is a good option to consider. There are also many people without these conditions that are also becoming interested in following a gluten-free diet due to the possible health benefits that have been associated with this type of diet.

In this post, we are going to take a look at what a gluten-free diet is, what rules to follow, what foods to include in this type of diet, and which particular food items should be avoided due to the presence of gluten.

What Is A Gluten-Free Diet?

A gluten-free diet is pretty much self-explanatory – the diet includes a meal plan that excludes foods known to contain the protein gluten and focuses on those food items that are free of gluten. There are also some foods that contain significantly low amounts of gluten – the general standard is that food is considered safe for people following a gluten-free diet when the gluten content in the food is less than 20 ppm. This low level of gluten is unlikely to cause any significant adverse reactions in people who are sensitive to gluten content in food, such as those people with celiac disease.

Who Is A Gluten-Free Diet For?

The primary purpose of a gluten-free diet is to reduce adverse effects that people experience when they consume food that contain this protein – this is the case with individuals who have developed a sensitivity to gluten. There are multiple conditions that are known to cause sensitivity and other adverse reactions to gluten content that are found in certain foods.

Celiac disease is somewhat common, affecting up to 1% of the worldwide population (2). The condition affects the way the body deals with food and causes adverse reactions in response to the presence of gluten in certain food items. Celiac disease causes a response by the immune system, which ultimately causes damage to the small intestine’s lining. The disease can lead to complications, such as a reduction in the body’s ability to effectively absorb nutrients that are found in the foods consumed.

There are other types of conditions that can also cause gluten sensitivities and lead to adverse symptoms when a person consumes food that contains gluten. These include:

  • Gluten ataxia, which is an autoimmune condition that causes adverse effects with muscles and nerve tissue in response to gluten.
  • Non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which can cause problems like diarrhea, constipation, pain, headaches, and more. While not an autoimmune the disease, scientific studies have found that the immune system is still responsible for adverse effects experienced in response to gluten by people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
  • Wheat allergies can also cause adverse effects in response to gluten being present in food consumed by a person with this condition.

Signs Of Gluten Sensitivities

Being sensitive to gluten content in food is not always obvious. There are many people who may suffer from the condition without the person being aware of the condition. For this reason, it is important to consider the potential symptoms that may be experienced with the presence of gluten sensitivity or perhaps a wheat allergy.

Some of the most common symptoms that have been associated with gluten sensitivity or intolerance include (3):

  • Bloating, which usually causes the belly to feel swollen
  • A build-up of gas may also occur along with the bloating
  • Feces may have a different and inappropriate smell
  • Constipation may occur in some people, while others may rather experience diarrhea
  • Fatigue and constantly feeling tired
  • Headaches occur in some people with gluten intolerance
  • Abdominal pain
  • Skin-related problems can occur, such as rashes, acne, and more
  • Some people may experience weight loss without any obvious explanation
  • Depression has also been linked to gluten intolerance

Are There Specific Rules To Follow On A Gluten-Free Diet?

A gluten-free diet is relatively simple and does not have any complicated rules to follow. The most important part of ensuring success with a gluten-free diet is for a person to ensure they thoroughly understand what foods contain gluten and which foods are good for people who are sensitive to this particular protein.

Once these factors are understood, setting up a meal plan that focuses on gluten-free foods becomes relatively easy and simple.

Possible Risks Associated With A Gluten-Free Diet

Generally, a gluten-free diet, when planned appropriately, does not have any significant risk factors that need to be understood. There are, however, some risks of nutritional deficiencies that people may suffer from if they follow a strict gluten-free diet. This is because of the particular restrictions in food choices that are often implemented in such a diet. There are many foods that are not included in this type of diet that contain important nutrients that the body depends on.

Specific types of nutrients that are a concern for people following a gluten-free diet include:

  • Niacin
  • Riboflavin
  • Iron
  • Fiber
  • Calcium
  • Folate
  • Thiamin

With this in mind, it is crucial for people who are interested in following a gluten-free diet to plan their meals appropriately. Additionally, a supplement containing these particular vitamins and minerals may be required in order to ensure nutritional deficiencies does not develop – when a deficiency in these particular nutrients occur, multiple complications may occur.

It is also important to consider the labels of foods that are promoted to be gluten-free. Many of these food options may contain added sugars, ultimately leading to higher calorie intake. Some of these foods may also contain higher levels of fats and salt. Thus, a good balance and careful planning are needed to avoid suffering complications due to excessive intake of these compounds.

What Foods To Include In A Gluten-Free Diet

Many people may consider a gluten-free diet as very restricted, due to the many food items that should not be included in this type of diet. With some creativity and appropriate research, however, it is still possible to prepare delicious meals without exposing the body to harmful gluten proteins.

Grains That Can Be Included In A Gluten-Free Diet

There are many grains out there that do contain gluten, but, at the same time, a lot of grain-based food options does not contain gluten. The following are excellent examples of grains that can be included in a gluten-free diet:

  • Corn
  • Cornmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Arrowroot
  • Teff
  • Rice
  • Hominy
  • Soy
  • Tapioca
  • Sorghum
  • Flax

Additionally, there are also gluten-free options when buying flour. This includes the following types of flour:

  • Bean Flour
  • Corn flour
  • Soy-based flour
  • Potato-based flour
  • Rice flour

Fresh Food Options To Include In A Gluten-Free Diet

Apart from grains, many people who follow a gluten-free diet tend to prefer opting for fresh food options. Not only are these excellent for ensuring gluten is not part of their diet, but fresh foods often contain higher levels of essential nutrients that are important for the body’s general functionality.

Some fresh foods that can be included in a gluten-free diet:

  • Eggs
  • Unprocessed beans
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Unprocessed meats (choose lean cuts preferably)
  • Unprocessed poultry and fish products

The majority of dairy products that are promoted as “low-fat” options can usually be included in a gluten-free diet as well. Additionally, nuts and seeds should play an important part in such a diet but should be purchased in unprocessed forms. During processing, many of these ingredients may be combined with gluten.

Foods That Should Be Avoided On A Gluten-Free Diet

While a lot of foods can be included in a gluten-free diet, there is also quite a list of restricted food items that tend to include gluten. Avoiding these foods is essential for reducing the risk of experiencing adverse effects due to gluten.

The most important types of grains that should be excluded from a gluten-free diet include:

  • Rye
  • Barley
  • What
  • Oats
  • Triticale

It should be noted that there are different names used for wheat. People who wish to eliminate gluten from their diet will need to ensure they know all of these names and check labels of their food for these particular wheat varieties. Some of these names may include:

  • Kamut
  • Einkorn
  • Spelt
  • Durum
  • Emmer

In addition to these foods, it is important to realize that the majority of processed foods available on the market contain gluten. Here is a list of common processed foods that are known to contain gluten levels high enough to cause adverse effects:

  • French fries
  • Matzo
  • Bread
  • Barley
  • Porter
  • Beer
  • Stout
  • Ale
  • Cereals
  • Cakes
  • Pies
  • Bulgur
  • Salad dressings
  • Soy sauce
  • Hot dogs
  • Pasta
  • Imitation seafood
  • Imitation meat
  • Gravies
  • Croutons
  • Communion wafers
  • Soup Mixes
  • Potato chips
  • Tortilla chips

Apart from all of these foods to be excluded from a gluten-free diet, it is also important that people following this type of diet understand that certain medications, as well as supplements, may contain wheat as an inactive ingredient. In these cases, the product contains gluten – and may lead to adverse effects.

Shopping On A Gluten-Free Diet

It is usually easier to shop on a gluten-free diet than many people might think. It is important to always look at food labels. Ingredient lists can be used to determine if a particular food item may contain gluten. There are also many foods on the market in the modern world that are labeled “gluten-free.” This makes shopping for appropriate foods while following a gluten-free diet much easier.

When eating out at a restaurant, things can be a little more difficult. There are some restaurants that will promote some of their meals as “gluten-free,” but not all restaurants will have such information on their menu. It might be useful to speak to the waiter and request details about gluten-free meals.

Conclusion

Gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, and many other conditions can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms when gluten is consumed. For these people, following a gluten-free diet is an effective approach to reducing the risk of these symptoms and improving overall health. Furthermore, a gluten-free diet may hold some potential benefits for people who do not have gluten sensitivity but would simply like to improve their well-being. Understanding what foods contain gluten is the first step to implement a gluten-free diet effectively.

References

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28244676
(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3496881/
(3) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/signs-you-are-gluten-intolerant

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