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A Gluten-free​ diet – a guide to getting started

What is Gluten

Have you ever eaten bread, especially warm bread with an elastic or stretchy texture to it? That’s the best part of the bread you might say as its this gooey texture that many people crave in bread and pastries. That texture is caused by gluten. In fact, the “glu” in gluten comes from the word glue which refers to its stickiness.

Gluten is a kind of protein that forms when liquid is added to wheat flour. A gluten-free diet contains food that has no gluten components, which might include additives to food. A gluten-free diet is more complicated than not eating bread or pasta as wheat can be found even in sauces and dressings.

What does Gluten do to some people?

There are three categories of people that will benefit from a gluten-free diet.

  • Those who have Celiac Disease 
  • People who have gluten sensitivity 
  • Those who just feel better without it

Gluten causes intestinal damage in a person with celiac disease. Celiac disease is an auto-immune disease where a person’s own immune system attacks their own body. When your intestines get damaged it reduces the absorption of nutrients. This is pretty bad in an adult and a lot worse in a child where nutrients are the key to normal development. 

Gluten sensitivity is problematic because it cannot be tested for in a lab as you can with celiac disease, however, it still wreaks havoc on a person’s body. Gluten sensitivity symptoms include the following:

  • Bloating
  • Headache
  • Brain Fog
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

Finally, some people feel better when eating a gluten-free diet and even without concrete symptoms they have reduced or eliminated wheat products containing gluten.

Here are 9 ways you can get started with a gluten-free diet

  1. Assume anything can contain gluten. Even though gluten comes from wheat, don’t assume that gluten can only found in obvious items such as bread and pastries. Gluten and wheatbased products can be in meats such as breaded chicken nuggets, pre-made soups, sauces and more. When buying pre-made foods always examine the label clearly or ask about the contents.
  1. Reduce pre-prepared foods such as frozen foods or canned foods. The preparation of many foods includes gluten and it might become too cumbersome to follow up on every ingredient on every label. Stick with buying plain and raw meats, fruits and vegetables where you need to do the entire preparation.
  2. Look for products that contain a gluten-free label. The manufacturers will ensure that no wheat products were added in any part of the manufacturing or assembling process. 
  3. Substitute regular pasta for rice, pasta or for white or brown rice. Rice pasta is quite tasty and the difference between rice and wheat pasta isn’t very dramatic making it an easy and tasty addition to a gluten-free diet.
  4. Know grains that are naturally gluten-free such as corn, rice, quinoa, amaranth, teff, wild rice, sorghum, buckwheat, and millet. Oats in itself is gluten-free but is often grown on a shared farm with wheat, which means it can be cross-contaminated. When buying oats ensure that the box clearly states that it is gluten-free. Look for products made with these ingredients instead of wheat.
  5. Many recipes call for flour as a thickener, you can substitute with guar gum or xanthan gum for a gluten-free alternative.
  6. Visit a gluten-free bakery or a bakery that serves gluten-free pastries and try different kinds of gluten-free bread. Some will taste better than others, but a bakery will allow you to try smaller portions before investing in an entire loaf for home.
  7. Know your alcohol as some liquor are not gluten-free. Distilled liquor is typically gluten-free because the distillation process removes the gluten. However, some flavored wines might contain gluten so please ask the bartender or liquor store before you make your purchase.
  8. Assume suspect items such as cereals are gluten-free unless specifically labeled as gluten-free. Because there is a true demand for gluten-free products most companies will mark their products as gluten-free if it is indeed. 
  9. Finally, do a lot of research and ask lots of questions. Don’t assume the food is gluten-free because it doesn’t appear to be a pastry or bread. Be sure to ask questions at a restaurant and research ingredients when in doubt. Over time you will be better able to recognize suspicious food items and be able to maintain a gluten-free diet.

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Guide to get started with gluten free