|Gluten Free Basics|
|Written by Dr. Allana Polo|
Knowledge is key to dietary health
“Gluten Free” seems to be the rage right now, whether people have Celiac disease, are gluten intolerant, or recently read ‘Wheat Belly’. People follow a gluten free diet for many reasons, but not all are medically necessary; nor are all gluten free diets followed properly. There are certain conditions that require one go gluten free, and these are confirmed via medical testing. Other people just feel better once gluten is eliminated from the diet.
This is the most well-known condition that requires a gluten free diet. The exact cause is unknown; however, we know that there is a genetic link. It is an autoimmune condition, where the immune system starts attacking the inner lining of the small intestine in response to eating gluten. Celiac affects approximately 1% of the population, but this number is increasing. Symptoms include abdominal cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, anemia, osteoporosis and failure to thrive among others. Please talk to your doctor if you suspect Celiac disease. The gold standard for diagnosing Celiac is via an intestinal biopsy.
A gluten allergy can wreak havoc on a person’s health and quality of life. Roughly 5% of individuals have a true allergy. A food allergy is an abnormal (IgE) immunologic response triggered by food. Symptoms can range from vomiting and diarrhea to hives, eczema or life threatening anaphylaxis.
Gluten sensitivity is an altered immune response as well; however, it is an IgG reaction, which causes gastrointestinal problems like bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain and gas. Many people who are diagnosed with ‘IBS’ actually just have a gluten sensitivity! More systemic reactions are very common as well, such as fatigue, headaches, foggy thinking, weight gain, insomnia or mood alterations. Food sensitivity testing can be done through your Naturopathic Doctor.
An elimination diet is also an extremely helpful tool to help diagnose gluten sensitivity. You avoid gluten (or any other potential food triggers) for 4-6 weeks and then try introducing it back into your diet and note the symptoms that occur. If you are gluten sensitive, you will notice right away. When the removal of gluten from the diet alleviates your symptoms, and reintroduction causes them to occur again, that is a sure sign there is a problem with gluten.
Figuring out what foods to eat and which to avoid while going gluten free can be quite difficult. My rule of thumb: Don’t try to replace gluten foods with the “gluten free” version. Usually, the gluten free alternative is actually more unhealthy for you with more added sugar, fat and artificial ingredients. Instead, find the whole or real food alternatives to your favorite foods. For instance, instead of a sandwich, try a lettuce wrap or instead of pasta, try zucchini noodles. Instead of toast or a bagel for breakfast, try a protein smoothie.
These lists will help to simplify gluten and gluten free choices:
Foods that are unsafe to eat:
Note: Beware of hidden gluten found in things like teriyaki sauce, soya sauce, salad dressings, seasonings and spices, soup stock etc. Make sure to read your labels carefully!
Also, wheat-free products do not mean gluten free, so again, labels and ingredient lists are very important.
Foods that are safe to eat:
Other foods safe to eat on a gluten free diet include meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds, nut butters, beans, lentils, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. There are many healthy options and alternatives for going gluten free. Just make sure to read the labels, ingredient lists and ask somebody in the store if you are still unsure!