Gluten Allergy Overview
Consuming gluten free products may seem like a difficult and limiting task. Fortunately, there are many healthy and delicious foods that are naturally gluten free!
A gluten allergy is the body’s inability to digest or break down the gluten protein found in wheat and certain other grains. Gluten intolerance (also known as a gluten sensitivity) can range from a mild sensitivity to gluten to full-blown celiac disease.
This is a severe autoimmune disorder in which a person’s immune system attacks gluten, if consumed, in the small intestine.
The most cost-effective and healthy way to follow the gluten free diet is to seek out these naturally gluten free food groups, which include:
- Meat and poultry
- Fish and seafood
- Beans, legumes, and nuts
Pure wheat grass and barley grass are gluten free, but there is gluten in the seeds. If they are not harvested or processed correctly, there is risk of gluten contamination.
What to Avoid
Wheat is one of the main staples of a Western diet and is public enemy number one for those with a gluten allergy.
In addition to pure wheat, all of its forms are also off-limits. This includes:
- wheat starch
- wheat bran
- wheat germ
- cracked wheat
- fu (common in Asian foods)
- graham flour
The list of gluten-containing grains doesn’t end at wheat. Other offenders are:
- oats (oats themselves don’t contain gluten, but are often processed in plants that produce gluten-containing grains and may be contaminated)
- triticale and Mir (a cross between wheat and rye)
Gluten may also show up as ingredients in barley malt, chicken broth, malt vinegar, some salad dressings, veggie burgers (if not specified gluten free), and soy sauce. The protein may even hide in many common seasonings and spice mixes.
Gluten Free Grains
There are many naturally gluten free grains that you can enjoy in a variety of creative ways. Many of these grains can be found in your local grocery store, but some of the lesser-known grains may only be found in specialty or health food stores. It is not recommended to purchase grains from bulk bins because of the possibility for cross-contact with gluten.
The following grains and other starch-containing foods are naturally gluten free:
- Corn (maize)
- Buckwheat groats (also known as kasha)
- Gluten-free oats
- Nut flours
There has been some research that some naturally gluten-free grains may contain gluten from cross-contact with gluten-containing grains through harvesting and processing. If you are concerned about the safety of a grain, purchase only versions that are tested for the presence of gluten and contain less than 20 ppm.
The list of off-limit items may seem daunting at first. Thankfully, there are plenty of replacements on the menu. Lots of foods are naturally gluten-free, including:
- fruits and vegetables
- dairy products
- lean beef
Many items that usually contain gluten have gluten-free alternatives that are widely available in most grocery stores, and make living gluten-free much easier. Keep in mind, however, that minimally processed fresh foods are a crucial part of a healthy gluten-free diet. It is very important to base your diet around fruits, vegetables, meats, and other healthy food groups listed above.
Many commercially available products are labeled “gluten-free,” but there will be some that are not.This is why proper label reading is important. It is also important to remember that “wheat-free” does not necessarily mean “gluten-free.” Be wary, as many products may appear to be gluten-free, but are not.
As a rule, traditional wheat products such as pastas, breads, crackers, and other baked goods are not gluten-free. However, there are many gluten-free options available that use alternative flours and grains. Often, gluten-free bread can be found in the freezer section. Additionally, there are gluten-free flours and flour blends available in the grocery aisle, allowing you to bake your own bread.
Oats are often harvested and processed with the same equipment that is used for wheat, and are therefore easily contaminated. Research indicates that pure, uncontaminated oats consumed in moderation (up to ½ cup dry rolled oats daily) are tolerated by most people with celiac disease. Look for oats specifically labeled gluten-free in all products containing oats, including granolas and granola bars.
Many cereals contain gluten or wheat-based ingredients, but there are some that do not. Be on the lookout for the “gluten-free” label, but also realize that not all gluten-free cereals will advertise as such, so it is important to check the list of ingredients. Something to watch out for: cornflakes and puffed rice cereal may contain malt flavoring or extract, which contains gluten!
Soups And Sauces
Soups and sauces are one of the biggest sources of hidden gluten, as many companies use wheat as a thickener. It is always a good idea to read the label of any pre-prepared or canned soups.
Fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten-free. However, it is important to read labels on any processed fruits and veggies, as well as dried fruit and pre-prepared smoothies. Additionally, packaged frozen potatoes are not always gluten-free, and labels should be read carefully when considering these products.
Most beverages are gluten-free, including juices, sodas, and sports drinks. Alcoholic beverages, including wines and hard liquor/distilled liquors/hard ciders are also gluten-free. However, beers, ales, lagers, malt beverages and malt vinegars that are made from gluten-containing grains are not distilled and therefore are not gluten-free. There are several brands of gluten-free beers available in the United States and abroad.
Medicines, Vitamins and Supplements
Not all medicines and vitamins are gluten free, so make sure to read the label before you buy.
Eating At Restaurants
Eating at restaurants can be particularly challenging when considering a gluten allergy, but this doesn’t mean you can’t ever dine out. You should be able to dodge the gluten bullet if you stick with the same types of items you eat at home, such as grilled meats and steamed vegetables.
Foods to avoid in restaurants include fried foods, certain sauces, or anything that has been fried in the same pan with a gluten-containing food.
Celiac disease requires extra caution when eating out. Make sure that dietary restrictions are communicated to the chef in advance. Certain restaurants are almost certainly out of question for those on a gluten-free diet, including fast food restaurants, buffets, salad bars, and most bakeries. On the flipside, some establishments, such as vegetarian restaurants, cater to the gluten free diet.
If you want complete control (and guarantee that your food is gluten free), cooking from scratch is the easiest way to avoid gluten,or,you can discuss any specific dietary considerations with a doctor or nutritionist.