As many Americans begin to take a closer look at their eating habits and overall diet in the quest for better health, many will decide to experiment with a gluten free diet (our gluten free foods list below can help.)  But is going  gluten free really necessary for most people or has it just become another one of the many fad diets that have taken the country by storm?

Experts agree that gluten has no negative effect on most people’s health and doesn’t need to be removed from their diet.  But there is a small portion of the population who do need to stick to a diet of gluten free foods due to health issues.  Still others choose to follow a gluten free diet because they feel that it improves their overall sense of well being.

Before you make the decision to cut gluten from your diet, it’s important to take a look at what gluten is and how it can affect our bodies.

What is gluten?

Gluten is the protein that is found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley.  Gluten acts like a glue to hold products together and helps to keep their shape.  Obvious products that contain gluten are breads, cereals and pastas.  As food processing continues to change, more gluten is used to make products more appealing, and may be causing a rise in gluten tolerance issues.  It now makes up 20% of the calories we eat according to The Guardian.

Who shouldn’t eat gluten?

For most people having a diet that includes gluten does not provide any adverse side effects.  But there are those that cannot tolerate or properly digest gluten.  This can lead to a gluten intolerance which produces symptoms such as stomach bloating, acid, diarrhea and constipation whenever a product containing gluten is eaten.  To alleviate the symptoms, your doctor may recommend trying a gluten free diet.

Although a gluten intolerance can be uncomfortable it generally doesn’t cause serious problems.  A smaller percentage of the population suffers from a more serious digestive disorder known as celiac disease.  Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that results in damage to the lining of the small intestine when foods with gluten are eaten.   Symptoms can be more serious in celiac disease and can have numerous symptoms including: vomiting, weight loss, fatigue and arthritis pain.  Your physician can run specific tests to determine if you suffer from celiac disease.  Removing gluten from your diet is essential in controlling the condition.

If you feel that you may have a gluten intolerance or the more serious celiac disease it’s important to seek medical attention to get a real diagnosis.  There is no cure for celiac disease.  The only treatment is to remove all gluten from your diet.

What is a gluten free diet?

At first, being diagnosed with a gluten intolerance or with celiac disease may be scary and confusing.  What can you eat?  Do you have to cut out certain food groups from your diet?  Will you need to completely change your current diet?  Although it’s true there will be foods containing gluten that you can no longer eat, there is a whole array of food that you can eat without a problem.

A gluten free diet starts with eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Lean meats and poultry, fish and seafood as well as dairy are fine.  Cooking your own meals at home with fresh ingredients means that you control the ingredients in your food. The food industry has responded to the current trend of gluten free diets by introducing more gluten free versions of standard food.  For those suffering from celiac disease, adding the gluten free version of basic foods such as bread and cereal gives them the opportunity to enjoy these items.

An important thing to remember is that processed food created to be gluten free isn’t necessarily healthier.  In many cases added fat, sugar and other additives are used to enhance the taste. Consuming them sparingly is a good rule of thumb.

Gluten Free Foods List

Traditional wheat products such as pastas, breads and crackers are generally the first products people think of when they think of gluten.  However, there are other less obvious products that should be carefully scrutinized to make sure that gluten isn’t hidden inside.  Less obvious products that can contain gluten are:

  • Cereals that contain gluten or that are wheat based.
  • Oats are frequently harvested in the same facility as wheat products and therefore can be contaminated. Look for oats specifically labeled as gluten free.
  • Soups and sauces can contain hidden gluten because manufacturers use wheat as a thickener.
  • Processed fruits and vegetables can contain gluten so opt for fresh and frozen whenever possible.
  • Beers, ales, and malt beverages are usually made from gluten based grains.

The key to sticking to a gluten free diet is to prepare and eat fresh, real food and to read the label on all processed foods to know when gluten is included.

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