A Beginner’s Guide to the Gluten-free Diet

A Beginner’s Guide to the Gluten-free Diet

A gluten-free diet excludes food that contains gluten. Gluten is a protein typically present in barley, rye, and wheat.

Many studies on gluten-free diets revolve around people with celiac disease. However, there is another condition known as gluten sensitivity.

If you are gluten intolerant, then you have to avoid it. Failure to do so would cause you severe discomfort and health effects (1, 2).

This Guide discusses the basics of the gluten-free diet.

 

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in spelt, rye, barley, and wheat. The word “gluten” is coined from the Latin word for glue because it creates a sticky consistency when the flour is mixed with water.

This sticky consistency is what helps the bread to rise during baking. It is also responsible for the chewy texture of bread (3).

However, the bad news is that most people feel uncomfortable after eating gluten-based foods. Celiac disease is the most severe reaction to this.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition. It affects at least 1% of the population and causes damage to the intestines (4).

If you are uncomfortable eating gluten, you must consult your healthcare provider.

There are several ways of testing for celiac (5):

  • A blood test that looks for antibodies interacting wrongly with the gluten protein.
  • A biopsy of the small intestine

It is crucial to test for celiac disease before starting a gluten-free diet. If you do not, it will be difficult for your doctor to determine whether you have celiac disease or not.

 

Why does gluten cause problems in some people?

Most people do not have issues with gluten foods. However, some people are intolerant of it. Also, people with celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten.

People with disorders like non-celiac sensitivity and wheat allergy cannot tolerate gluten.

Apart from an allergy, there are two important reasons why one wouldn’t mess with gluten.

 

Celiac disease

At least 1% of people worldwide are affected by celiac disease (4).

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body overreacts to gluten proteins and attacks it as a foreign invader.

The bad news is that this attack can damage the gut wall and other surrounding areas, resulting in digestive issues, nutrient deficiencies, anemia, and a high risk of harmful diseases (6).

Celiac disease patients may experience symptoms such as depression, tiredness, anemia, weight loss, bloating, discomforting feeling in the stomach, skin rashes, constipation, diarrhea, and sharp stomach pain (1).

On the other hand, some celiac disease patients do not experience symptoms in their digestive tract. Instead, they have anemia, depression, and fatigue.

You should know that these symptoms also present in other medical conditions, thus making it hard to diagnose celiac disease (7).

 

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity affects approximately 0.5 – 13% of the population (2).

This disorder usually tests negative for a wheat allergy or celiac disease. However, they will still feel uncomfortable after eating gluten (8).

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity has symptoms similar to celiac disease, such as bloating, stomach pain, eczema, tiredness, a rash, or altered bowel motions (2).

However, there is some controversy surrounding non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Not every expert believes that it exists. To some, it is a mindset thing.

For instance, a study tested 35 people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The participants were given wheat-based flour and gluten-free flour at different times. The participants did not know what they were given.

The study showed that over two-thirds of people could not differentiate between wheat-based flour and gluten-free flour. In addition, the results showed that over 50% of the participants experienced worse symptoms after taking the gluten-free flour (9).

It is also important to note that these symptoms may be caused by irritants such as FODMAPS (10).

The evidence surrounding this condition is mixed. But if you think that gluten makes you uncomfortable, you should see your healthcare provider.

 

What foods should you avoid on a gluten-free diet?

Avoiding gluten ultimately can be challenging. Why? Because it is found in many food ingredients.

The following are significant sources of gluten in the diet:

  • Barley
  • Semolina, Kamut, durum, spelt, wheat flour, wheat bran, and other wheat-based foods.
  • Malt
  • Rye
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Triticale

Foods that may contain gluten-based ingredients include:

  • Wheat-based bread
  • Cereals
  • Wheat-based pasta
  • Baked foods like pizza, muffins, cookies, cakes, pastries, and bread crumbs.
  • Snacks like pretzels, roasted nuts, muesli bars, candy, flavored popcorn, and chips.
  • Sauces like teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, marinades, salad dressings, and hoisin sauce.
  • Beverages such as flavored alcoholic drinks and beer

There’s no better way to avoid gluten than eating unprocessed, single-ingredient foods. It is also crucial that you read the food labels of whatever you’re eating.

Oats do not contain gluten. However, they may be contaminated with gluten since there are chances that they might be processed in factories where wheat-based foods were processed (12).

 

Foods that are recommended on a gluten-free diet

Several gluten-free options will boost your health and also allow you to enjoy great meals.

Examples of gluten-free foods include:

  • Eggs of all types
  • Meat and fish, except coated or battered meats
  • Plain dairy products like plain yogurt, milk, and cheeses.
  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Grains like rice, quinoa, tapioca, buckwheat, millet, sorghum, corn, oats, teff, arrowroot, and amaranth.
  • Flours and starches from coconut, almond meal, tapioca, soy, chickpea, corn, and potato.
  • Oils and spreads
  • Spices and herbs
  • Beverages, except beer

 

Does a gluten-free diet have any health benefits?

Sure!

Health benefits of a gluten-free diet, especially for celiac disease patients, include easing digestive symptoms (13), reducing chronic inflammation (14), promoting weight loss (15), and boosting energy (13).

 

Any negative effects?

A gluten-free diet puts one at risk of nutritional deficiencies. It also makes a person prone to constipation. A typical gluten-free diet is also expensive.

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